The Dogcatcher Diaries
Excerpt from: The Dogcatcher and The Fox – now available at Amazon.com and Ingram Books
“Whose rig is this?” Raven demanded of the men behind the two wagons outside the Lincoln Park Zoo.
Activity stopped as four teamsters peered back at her. She held the bridle of a tall black draft horse and, as it shook its head, she was thrown off balance. The men laughed as she stumbled and steadied the hat on her head.
“This horse is lame,” she continued. “He needs attention.”
“That horse,” replied one of the men, “is none of your business.”
He leaned around the back of the wagon for a closer look at her, and she stared defiantly back. He was a weathered, muscular man who carried a burlap sack of animal feed on his shoulder. The scar running down his jaw and the whip he carried gave him an air of menace. Raven had seen plenty of bullies like him who liked to mistreat their animals. He dropped his load and strutted toward her as his face hardened. Although she couldn’t help but recoil a bit, she forced herself not to back up.
Raven and Jo had stopped off at her apartment to get Jo cleaned up before taking the streetcar to Clark and Webster and walking East toward the West Gate of the zoo. Raven did not admit it to her companion, but she wondered how she would know if animals at the zoo were being mistreated and what, if anything, she could do about it. She liked zoos and did not have a problem with the keeping of animals in cages, and the Lincoln Park Zoo was an iconic community gathering place. Most people, she assumed, thought the zoo was just fine as it was. Every time she had been there, the animals appeared comfortable and well cared for. Sea lions swam lazy laps in their pool, big cats lounged majestically on their benches, and zebras appeared to doze standing in the shade. The only complaint she could imagine was that the cages were too small. But this was downtown Chicago. Space was at a premium.
As they approached the zoo entrance, Raven had noticed some men transferring bags of what appeared to be animal feed from wagons into a small shed. The trouble began when one of the horses caught her eye. It was shifting uneasily on its left front hoof. Jo remained near the road while Raven moved in for a closer look.
“You need to take this horse out of service,” she said to the man.
“You’re the one I seen in the newspaper,” the man snarled. He turned to his mates and continued, “This is the woman who defends niggers that come in here and take our jobs.”
As his companions moved in for a closer look, the man balled his fist as if to punch her but at the last instant opened his hand and gave her a violent shove, sending her to the ground. She immediately jumped to her feet and readied her parasol to club him. He stepped forward to meet her challenge.
“Hold on, Vinnie,” said another man. “There’s no need for that.”
“Stay out of this, Harry.”
Harry stepped between Raven and the man, holding up both hands to stop the action. He then moved quickly to the horse, turned his back to everyone, and pulled up the hoof, lodging it between his knees.
“There’s a piece of glass in here,” he said, and with a flick of his folding knife he sent the object flying across the driveway. “There,” he said. “He’s not cut. He’ll be fine.”
Vinnie stared at Raven for a moment and glanced at Harry before moving back to continue his work as if nothing had happened. Harry did not join them.
“I’m not sure that was such a good idea,” he said to Raven. “Those teamsters are some pretty tough customers.”
She was still flushed with anger as she looked closely at Harry. He wore the uniform of a zookeeper with his sleeves rolled up and his collar unbuttoned. He was handsome in a rugged sort of way, and he was clearly good with animals.
“You work at the zoo,” she said.
“I’m Harold Fischer,” he said. “Folks call me Harry. I am curator of birds, but,” he glanced at the horses, “I started out in hoofed stock.” He paused then asked, “Is it true what he said about your picture in the paper?”
“For the most part,” Raven said evasively. “I’m here to look at the zoo, not those guys and their horses.”
“The zoo?” asked Harry in surprise.
He smiled, and when Raven looked down and gave a slight smile back, he said, “You can look at whatever you please. I’ll show you around—but only if you’ll let me buy you a coffee after.”
“Thank you, Mr. Fischer,” she said, “but that won’t be necessary.”
“I might like a coffee.” They both turned in surprise. Raven had not heard Josephine move up beside them.
“This is my colleague, Josephine Washington,” Raven said.
“Call me Jo.”
“Pleased to meet you, Jo,” Harry said with a polite bow. “And you are?” He turned back to Raven.
“Raven,” she said. “Raven Griffith.”
“Raven,” he repeated. “Like the bird?”
“Yes, like the bird.”
Harry had a private word with the teamsters and motioned for Raven and Jo to follow him down a wooded path and into the zoo. The change in atmosphere from the noisy, dirty street outside was remarkable. Even the air seemed cleaner. Raven had been to the zoo once or twice, but never noticed how pleasant it was. The walkways were wide, paved, and flanked by formal plantings that were now carpeted by fall leaves. Clouds hung low in the afternoon sky.
“I appreciate your doing this, Mr. Fischer,” she said.
“Call me Harry, Miss. Griffith.”
They strolled past the prairie dog village and stopped at the sea lion pool.
“I need to finish my cleaning routine,” he said. “You two are welcome to look around and I’ll catch up with you in an hour or so.”
As they watched him walk away, Jo said, “I like him.”
Raven did not reply. She wasn’t sure whether she appreciated or resented the way he had stepped in to intervene with the teamsters. She did not like the idea that she needed a man to rescue her.