Skipper peered through the undergrowth, his dark brown eyes fixed on two shadowy shapes. On that particular Spring morning, the fog had yet to lift, shrouding everything in a thick wet mist, but unmistakable to him were the two humans in the distance.
Reaching his side, Tango was about to step forward, when she got the “look.” Skipper didn’t move, but his eyes told her not only to stop, but to also stay low. Seeing that he hadn’t even shaken off the sparkling dewy droplets from his nose and whiskers, Tango’s eyes followed his.
Suddenly, there was the faint sound of raised voices, and through the swirling gray vapor the dogs could just make out one of the humans lunge at the other. They appeared to be wrestling, then one broke free and began to run, with the other close behind. Skipper still didn’t move as the figures disappeared into the fog, but tensed and closed his eyes, almost as though he knew what was about to happen. A second later, there were two sharp cracks.
“Why are the humans letting off fireworks?” Tango whispered.
Skipper finally turned his head. “They weren’t fireworks,” he whispered back.
“So what was that noise?” Tango continued.
But before he could reply, Misty appeared. Her normally white front paws were covered in black wet mud, as was her muzzle.
Tango cocked her head.
“Rabbits,” Misty said before Tango could ask.
“You’re going to get into trouble,” Tango replied.
Misty vigorously shook, sending mud all over Skipper’s shiny red fur.
“Now you’re in even bigger trouble,” Tango added.
Skipper made no comment as he glanced at his half-sister and her muddy paws. Then he turned to Tango. “Why do you think Mom calls her ‘The Devilish Miss M’?” he said, and sniffed Misty’s white bib. “And that smell’s not rabbit.”
Misty’s reply was a cheeky Corgi grin.
“What’s going on?” Duke asked, appearing around a nearby bush. At six-years-old, he was the most senior of the siblings, but deferred to Skipper as the leader of their group.
“Fireworks,” Tango replied.
“For the second time, that wasn’t fireworks,” Skipper snapped, but she ignored him and broke cover into the marshy field, immediately followed by Misty.
Skipper gave a low sharp bark that made them stop. “Get back here,” he growled. “It’s not safe. Time for breakfast.”
At the word “breakfast,” Tango turned back, but, as usual, Misty had to be told again, before she reluctantly followed…
Illustrations drawn by the author
It all began with a red fox.
On rare occasions, and when Skipper, Duke, Misty and Tango thought they could get away with it, they sneaked out of the garden, under the cover of darkness, to meet their friend and closest neighbor, Benny. It usually meant that their “mom,” famous mystery writer, Victoria ‘Vicky’ Cooper was working even later than usual.
The four Welsh Pembroke Corgi siblings now knew that Vicky had found their escape route, dug enthusiastically the previous year by Tango, and that she’d chosen not to close it off. It still remained hidden by a large area of ferns, ornamental grasses, and low-growing Palmetto palms close to the wooden split rail and wire mesh fence that enclosed the cottage’s large garden.
Tango, who had exceptional digging skills, even as a puppy, was now following her Uncle Duke and Aunty Misty, while her big brother Skipper lead them along the narrow raised path that ran through part of the marsh.
Benny, who lived at Smith Farm with his new owner, Patty Huggins, came trotting from the opposite direction, meeting them halfway.
“It’s good to see you,” Benny said to Skipper, bending to touch noses, before greeting Duke and Misty. “Where’s Tango?”
“She’s right here,” Misty said, and turned around. “Correction. She was right here.”
“Well, she’s not here now,” Duke stated, beginning to search the darkness. He faced his sister. “She was behind you. So where did she go?”
“I don’t know,” Misty replied. “Benny’s the tallest. Can you see her?”
The big black and tan Rottweiler scanned the dark marsh.
“No,” he said. “We’d better find her. It’s dangerous out there.” Benny’s attachment to the youngest of the Corgis had been immediate when they’d first met. “You’re really cute,” he’d told her.
“And being black doesn’t help,” Duke added, facing Skipper. Although younger than Duke, Skipper was the Alpha male, and his three siblings deferred to him as leader of their small group. “What do we do?”
“We start looking,” Skipper replied. “She can’t have gone far.”
“Want to bet?” Misty said.
“Here we go again,” Duke muttered.
“Not necessarily,” she replied.
“Considering you’re worse than Tango when it comes to your adventures, I don’t know how you can say that,” Duke continued.
Skipper gave a short, low bark. “Enough. Start searching.”
“And hurry,” Benny added. “She could be hurt.”
Tango, who still hero-worshiped Skipper, was quite happy to follow Misty along their now well-worn path through the marsh that separated Vicky’s cottage and Patty’s inherited farm. But as Tango grew older, she was becoming a lot more independent, and although Misty was usually the troublemaker when it came to their infamous escapades, Tango was now quite capable of going off on her own. Unlike her red and white colored siblings, Tango was a mostly black Corgi, known as tri-color, and with the moon hidden behind the clouds, she was well camouflaged.
On his nightly hunt, the red fox sensed the Corgis long before he saw them, and quickly crouched behind a tall clump of marsh grass as they trotted passed, several yards away. Skipper recognized the good smell of a fox, but tonight he chose to ignore it. They were there to meet Benny, and not to get lost in the marsh. But Tango and the fox had met very briefly once before. Almost colliding with him in the dark, the fox had been forced to duck as Tango leaped over him, not even slowing in her frantic quest to get help.
Tonight was different. The fox was so intent in watching Skipper, Duke and Misty, that he raised his head, and in the gloom, he missed seeing Tango, more than a few paces behind.
As the fox slunk onto the narrow path, they met, face-to-face. Tango didn’t make a sound, but instead, she gave him a sly Corgi grin. The fox immediately recognized her expression, and didn’t hesitate to jump off the path and back into the marsh.
Corgis have a well-deserved reputation for not only having a foxy face, but also the foxy nature that goes with it, and, for Tango, this opportunity was too good to miss. She instantly and silently gave chase. With Corgis also being faster than anyone expects, it soon became clear to the fox that the dog was gaining on him. Hiding to escape amongst the large grassy mounds, surrounded by water and thick black mud, was not going to be an option. His first thought was to double back, but then it occurred to him that he’d have even more dogs on his trail. So he continued to run, swerving to avoid the largest mounds, while Tango, using all of her athletic ability, kept in a straight line.
When the fox realized that he could actually be caught, he headed for Marshside Road.
Scrambling up the bank, through the undergrowth and tees, he reached the blacktop, crossing to the far side. It was a mistake. Although there was another barrier of trees and undergrowth, one of the many area tidal channels also paralleled the road, and, unfortunately for the fox, it was high tide. Not wanting to swim, it left him with no alternative but to break cover back to the road. At that point, and now within a few feet of him, Tango finally barked…
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