Staff’s knees cracked like twin shotgun blasts when he raised himself from the ground where he and Afia had been crouched and examining the pawprints that led both into and out from the driveway. Afia stood up beside him, smiling. “Feeling some age creeping into the joints there, Staff?”
He stretched, placing his hands on each side of his lower back as he did. “Not a particularly comfy bed in my room at Patsy’s. That’s all. I believe I’m actually younger than you, thank you very much.”
She chuckled at that. Staff bent and dusted away the dry ground that had clung to the fine hairs on his knees, eyeballing the prints again as he did.
“Are you thinking the black bitch made those?” Afia asked, noting his gaze.
“I think some kind of dog made them. Maybe even the one that ran out in front of us on our way into town yesterday. The intersection back there at Hollow Creek Road and SR-501 was exactly where we were when we saw it.”
Afia followed his finger, nodding. “I guess it’s too bad they finally paved this little dead-end road at some point. These tracks must be fresh, at least as far as I can tell. They’re crystal clear. If it was still a dirt road, we might’ve been able to tell for sure if whatever it is had run off in that direction.”
From inside the house, the distant sound of Patsy Blankenship shouting “Hello? Graham? It’s Patsy!” found its way to their ears.
“How big do you think this place is?” Staff said. “You’d think he would have heard her by now if he’s inside.”
He cut his eyes at her, smirking. “How much trouble do you think we’d get in if I just started shooting some B-roll of the exterior? If we’re going to let Patsy and that Beard kid tell the whole mid-state about Lost Hollow’s black bitch, we might as well get some shots of some alleged black bitch pawprints, shouldn’t we?”
Afia looked doubtful. “I suppose if we just shoot from the road here, where we’re technically not on anything but public property.”
“I was actually thinking about following the pawprints. The ones that lead onto the property. See how far they go, if they lead anywhere.”
“It would only be for a few minutes, just while Patsy’s inside looking for the constable. Besides, if anyone is going to be charged with trespassing, it’ll be her. She just walked right in there like she owned the place, and now she’s wandering around in it.”
Afia laughed. “Yeah, she does act like she owns the whole town, doesn’t she? All right. We’ll just follow the pawprints for a bit until we hear yea or nay about the constable’s whereabouts from inside. Just don’t trample on any flowerbeds or anything like that.”
“You’re worried about flowerbeds here? Look at the yard. Ever see grass as tall as your ass in any place where the homeowner maintained a flowerbed?”
She scanned the front yard and grinned. “I guess you’re right. Maybe you should just watch out for snakes then.”
“Oh. Yeah.” He hadn’t considered that possibility. But it was autumn now. Snakes were a spring and summer thing, like ticks. At least, he thought they were. “You’re not coming with me?”
“I think I’m just going to hang out by the truck while you get the shots. That way I can keep an eye out for Patsy. Let me know if you find anything interesting, though.”
Staff heaved the weighty old school video camera he had retrieved from the back of the S-10 and mounted it on his right shoulder. There was a tripod in the truck as well. He briefly considered using it for additional support if he got tired and needed to put the thing down for a bit. In the end, he chose to leave it behind and rely solely on his own muscle and dexterity to get the shots he wanted.
“I guess I’m just lucky I don’t have to crank it,” he said to himself. “Damned thing almost dates back to that era.”
He strode past Afia, crouched at the start of the set of pawprints by the edge of the driveway and pressed the Record button. Remarkably, the morning light shining down on the dead-end street was just right for the close-up he wanted. Through the viewfinder, he was able to close in tight on two staggered front paws pointing in the direction of the house. Once that was established, he rotated the viewfinder at a right angle, so that he could look down at it as he dragged the camera along the pawprint trail, inches above it. Stooped at the middle of his back, he held the device’s handle in both hands, his arms stretched to their full length so that the landscape of pawprints disappeared into a vanishing point that was enshrouded in dry and overgrown clumps of Kentucky fescue.
Staff sidled carefully up the trail, trying to keep the camera steady, one eye on the direction the path was heading and one on the viewfinder. It would have been easier had he convinced Afia to follow the path ahead of him a little pace, so he didn’t need to track it at the same time he was trying to get it on video. He hadn’t thought of that before. Neither had Afia, apparently. And he was already recording. By the time he reached an apparent left turn in the trail’s direction, which happened to occur at the base of the short stack of stairs leading up to the front porch, his forearms were screaming at him. Still cameras and recent video technology was so much lighter than this old thing. He’d need to have another budgetary word with Joanie when they got back to Channel 6. Staff set the bulky contraption down on the lowest tread of the front porch steps and called out to Afia.
“I’m sorry. I think I’m going to need some help. No sign of any snakes so far. Be careful where you step on your way over. Don’t walk on any of the pawprints, just in case we have to do this again.” From this spot outside the house, he thought he could hear Patsy Blankenship’s wedge heels thik-thunking against the floors of the empty old house. Hopefully, she hadn’t completed her search already.
“On my way,” Afia called. In a few seconds she had skipped along the pawprint trail that had taken him nearly two minutes to shoot. She did not step on a single one.
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