Year of the Dog serial novel
by Camy Tang
Marisol Mutou, a professional dog trainer, is having a bad year.
While renovating her new dog kenneling and training facility, she needs to move in with her disapproving family, who have always made her feel inadequate—according to them, a job requiring her to be covered in dog hair and slobber is an embarrassment to the family. She convinces her ex-boyfriend to take her dog for a few months … but discovers that his brother is the irate security expert whose car she accidentally rear-ended a few weeks earlier.
Ashwin Keitou has enough problems. His aunt has just shown up on his doorstep, expecting to move in with him, and he can’t say no because he owes her everything—after his mother walked out on them, Aunt Nell took in Ashwin and his brother and raised them in a loving Christian home. What’s more, his brother Dusty also needs a place to stay after being kicked out of his apartment—with a dog in tow. And guess who the dog’s owner is?
But then Ashwin gets a request from an old friend, Edytha Guerrero, a private investigator who also runs a day spa on O’ahu’s north shore. A strange bit of “vandalism” at Marisol's facility had led her to find a purse belonging to Edytha’s sister—who had disappeared three years ago. Worried that Marisol might be in danger, and finding out that security expert Ashwin already knows her, Edytha asks him to covertly keep an eye on the busy young woman
Ashwin is reluctantly attracted to the lively, easy-going dog trainer. She reminds him too much of his happy-go-lucky mother, whose betrayal had caused him to keep people at a distance. Marisol sees past Ashwin’s cold exterior to a man who is loyal to his family, unlike her own mother and sister, who only criticize her career choice.
In the midst of Marisol’s disjointed family and Ashwin’s disruptive home, danger begins to circle around them from people who want the past to remain there. Can they shed light on the secrets moving in the shadows?
Chapter 4: Black and Tan Rottweiler
“Watch out, Lana, you’ve got a beagle on your six,” Marisol said. The park was busy, which was perfect for her session of helping Lana train her golden doodle puppy, Ralphie.
The owner of the beagle wasn’t even watching the path—instead, she was doing something on her phone. In her lax grip dangled one of those retractable leashes, and it was unlocked, so when her dog spotted Ralphie, it began pulling toward them, unhindered by the leash, and started barking.
Marisol stepped closer to her friend as Lana instinctively tightened her hold on the leash to her own dog.
“Lana, relax your grip. Don’t let him feel your nervousness.”
But Lana's rambunctious puppy sensed his owner's tension. He started to tug, his nose scanning the park for whatever new smell it was that threatened Lana, and he spotted the beagle behind them.
“No, Ralphie! Heel!” Lana’s voice had grown higher pitched and angry.
“Calm down. He won’t listen to you if you get upset.” Marisol snapped her fingers right in Ralphie’s face, which always got his attention because he tended to be easily distracted by movement. It broke his fixation on the beagle, although it was instantly claimed by a distant Rottweiler. Luckily, it was too far away.
Lana exhaled long and hard. “I’m trying. It’s just difficult.”
“Stop a moment. Let him refocus on you.”
“Should I give him a treat?”
While Lana rummaged in her waist pouch for a piece of chicken, Marisol glanced behind them. The beagle’s owner was distractedly tugging the yapping dog away. Good.
She assessed the rest of the park. They needed to stay away from the high energy chihuahua in the far corner, but the loping bloodhound might be a good, low energy dog to introduce to Ralphie for socialization training. She should steer Lana and her dog away from the running, howling kindergartners playing with a soccer ball in the other corner.
Ralphie responded eagerly to the scent of chicken, plopping his bottom on the grass and giving Lana his full attention. “Bottomless pit,” Lana chided as her hand motioned in a “watch me” command.
“He’s doing good.”
Lana gave her a sidelong glance. “You’re awful at lying. We're terrible. I’m never going to get him trained before my next round of buyers come.”
“Yeah, you still need to work on your timing.”
Lana gave her an exasperated look. “Thanks, tell me something I don’t know.”
Although Lana was a breeder of fashionable golden doodles—golden retriever-poodle mixes—she completely sucked at dog training and always had, for all the years they’d known each other. Marisol had a rather blunt personality and didn’t particularly mind when people were candidly honest with her, but Lana tended to be a bit sensitive to criticism. So when helping Lana train her dogs, Marisol had to always remind herself to stop and try to phrase things more gently. They’d gotten into arguments often enough when Marisol inadvertently said something to hurt Lana’s feelings, and she knew she ought to work on her tact so she didn’t alienate her more.
Without breaking the “watch me” command or taking her eyes from Ralphie, Lana continued their interrupted conversation. “So what are you doing to do about Jenessa?”
More like what she should do about William, the rat fink scum. “Jenessa adores him. She’s going to be devastated.” And if Marisol was the bearer of that devastation, Jenessa might go nuclear. She cringed just thinking about it.
“But wouldn’t it be better for her to know the truth?”
“You’re always making me do things that get me in trouble.”
“You’d be doing the right thing, which is what God wants you to do.”
Marisol looked away so Lana wouldn’t see her rolling her eyes. Not another God conversation.
“Remember, Jesus said not to lie. Which you’d know if you’d kept going to church.”
Several years ago, Marisol had tried Lana’s church for a few months and she hadn’t liked it. Why couldn’t Lana just leave the topic alone? “You had better release Ralphie. He’s getting antsy.”
Lana gave Ralphie the chicken piece, then said, “Release.”
“Lana, you should say ‘release’ before you give him the chicken.”
“I thought I did.” Lana frowned at her.
Marisol remained silent. It wasn’t worth it to get into another argument with Lana about her timing for dog training. It was hard to believe how bad it was, considering how long she’d been working with dogs. She’d gotten a lot worse in the years since she married and moved farther away. When she’d lived close to Marisol, she’d been taking lessons from her regularly, but now they only met once every few months. “How many in Ralphie’s litter, again?”
“Seven. I’ve already got five contracted deposits and six potential buyers who want to visit this weekend to look the pups over.” With a satisfied sigh, she straightened her shoulders and continued walking with Ralphie.
Marisol’s phone sounded with the scream at the opening of the Who song, “Who Are You." She groaned, feeling like screaming herself. “That’s work. Hang on, I’ve got to take this. Hello?”
“Marisol, it’s Brandy.” Her manager sounded frazzled. “Did you sign off on the spec releases yet?”
“What spec releases?”
“For version 2.15.”
“No, I’m still waiting to hear back from the in-house engineers before I can release the part numbers.”
“Well, I’ve got a manufacturing division leader in China who is demanding those releases today. Which, in China, is actually tomorrow.”
Marisol checked her watch. Six PM here meant … twelve PM in Shanghai. “China has the schedule. They know they’re not supposed to expect those until—”
“Well, you’re not the one trying to understand this guy's broken English. You don’t happen to speak Chinese, do you?”
“I’m Japanese-American, Brandy. Chinese is nothing like Japanese.”
Brandy heaved a sigh. “I’ll try to kick the Chinese division head up to my manager—he might be less likely to yell at him. Between budget cuts here and engineers outsourced from overseas wanting more work, I feel like I’m being drawn and quartered. Have a good weekend.” She hung up.
“Your manager?” asked Lana.
Marisol replaced her cell phone in her pocket. “Poor Brandy.” Her manager had a hard time keeping the company’s satellite location in Mililani running smoothly when upper management had laid off ten employees only two weeks ago.
“Things are still crazy busy, huh?”
“I ought to be grateful I have a job, period.” After all, the location in San Jose, California, had laid off twenty employees.
Her phone vibrated again. Before she answered, she cautioned Lana, “Ralphie’s pulling too much. Don’t let him lead you—you’re the alpha dog. What is it, Brandy?”
“Brandy?” asked a deep, chuckling male voice. “I’ve been called lots of things, but never Brandy.”
“Oops! Sorry, Uncle Richard. I was just talking to my manager and thought she was calling me again.”
In the background, Aunt Viola started whooping with laughter. “She called you Brandy?”
“Anyway …” Uncle raised his voice to drown out his wife’s hooting. “I got a good opportunity for you, Marisol.”
“Opportunity? What do you mean?” Maybe a new client? She had room in her Thursday night class, or she could squeeze in another private session in her week.
“D'you remember telling us about how lots of your Japanese clients were wishing you could kennel their dogs when they went back to Japan on trips?”
“My dog resort idea? Yeah, I remember.” More than just dog kenneling service, her own facility could serve as a training center so she wouldn’t have to rent that squalid room in that strip mall for her evening classes. It would also be a place she could offer grooming services and long-term rehabilitation training for more difficult dogs.
“Your Aunt Vi stumbled across a private elementary school that shut down, and they’re selling.”
Hmm. A school building would be “renovatable.” The individual classrooms would be perfect for either classes or kennels or grooming rooms. “But where? Most of my clients are on the North Shore—I’ve got to have a good location.” If she was too far away, her clients wouldn’t want to drive to her facility for classes, grooming, or private sessions.
“It’s in Waialua. It’s perfect.”
“But Uncle, I don’t have that kind of money in my bank account.” Granted, she had a decent chunk, since she’d bought her own home right out of college with the inheritance money she’d gotten from Grandma, and she’d only saved most of her salary in the years since then. But enough to buy a school property?
“Aunt Vi says—”
The phone clicked. “Marisol, I could sell your house in a heartbeat,” Aunt Vi chirped. “Your location in Haleiwa has become prime real estate in the last few years, no matter the way the economy is going. And thanks to the economy, that school is going cheap.”
“But Uncle, Aunty, that’s a lot of money. And where am I going to live?” But even as she asked the question, she knew—she could renovate the facility so she could live there. She’d probably have to, anyway, if she was going to kennel clients’ dogs.
“What do you mean?” Uncle Richard asked. “You can live with your mom.”
Her spine did a reflexive jerk. Mom? No way. “She’s not going to want me back home. She only barely tolerates my dog training because it’s on the side, not full time. If I start my own facility, she’ll go through the roof.”
“You have lots of options,” Aunt Vi said soothingly. “So, how about that school?”
“That means quitting my job.”
“You said yourself, you only work there to pay your bills,” said Aunt Vi. “And really, since you never spend your money, you’re probably building up an indecent amount in your portfolios—”
“Hey, hey,” Uncle Richard said. “She’s technically still my client. Can’t talk about that.”
“But I can help you with the money,” he said. “I have plenty of contacts at the bank. They can help you get a small business loan to get you off the ground after you buy the property.”
Wow. Quit her job, buy a business property. Expand her dog training side business to a full time career.
And alienate her mother and her sister, who already hated the fact she worked with dogs at all.
“I don’t know, Uncle. That’s a big step. Let me think about it.”
“Don’t think too long,” Aunt Vi said. "That property won’t be on the market forever.”
Her own facility … but there was just too much risk. Too much fodder for Massive Family Drama.
She said goodbye and stared long and hard at her phone. So tempting, but so frightening.
“What was that about?” Lana asked. She’d failed to correct Ralphie, who was pulling her along.
“Hey, get Ralphie’s attention back. Don’t let him lead you.”
“I know, I know, alpha dog.” Lana gave a half-hearted snap to the leash that only worked for half a second before Ralphie pulled again, intent on more interesting smells. “What did your uncle want? You’re going to quit your job?”
“No, I’m not. Well …” She told her about the school.
Lana’s brow wrinkled. “You know, I’ve never really been nuts about your dog facility idea.”
“Well, I haven’t talked about it with you very much.” Mostly because talking about her training business seemed to annoy Lana, and Marisol didn’t really understand why.
“It just seems too risky,” Lana said.
“You quit teaching to breed golden doodles full time. That was risky.” They’d originally become fast friends because they’d both undertaken careers despite disapproving families. Marisol would have thought Lana would encourage her with the facility, just as she’d encouraged her when she first decided to get certified for dog training.
“I didn’t make that much when I was a teacher, so breeding dogs wasn’t going to make me any poorer. But you make a lot with your engineering job. Are you sure you could get enough clientele to make a living?”
“N-no,” Marisol said. Lana was right. Who was she kidding?
Ralphie almost pulled Lana off balance. Marisol had to grab her friend to keep her from falling.
Marisol snatched the leash from Lana and gave a sharp tug along with a verbal reproof to the dog. Ralphie, sensing the stronger command in her voice, quit pulling and sat at her side, looking up at her. “Good Ralphie.” She handed the leash back to Lana.
A flash of irritation crossed her friend’s face.
“Sorry,” Marisol said with a wince. She tried not to be heavy-handed with her training, but she’d been worried that Ralphie might do something to hurt Lana.
Lana sighed. “There’s nothing for you to be sorry about.” She corrected Ralphie as he tugged again. Her timing wasn’t that bad that time. “I want unusually well-trained puppies when my buyers come to see them rather than the typical undisciplined puppies. If I can train my dogs before sale, I can charge twice as much.”
“If I had my own facility, I could take them for a week or two and train them for you. I’d even give you a discount.”
She thought Lana would grin at that remark, but her friend only pursed her lips and looked pensive. Marisol wasn’t certain how to respond. The silence stretched.
She was about to say the first inane thing that came to mind—which would probably either make Lana certain Marisol was an idiot or start another fight—when Lana looked up at her. “So what are you going to do about Jenessa?” she asked.
Her stomach clenched. She was going to get ulcers.
Marisol didn’t answer for a while, unsure what to do. Which was why she was the first to catch a flash of black and tan in her peripheral vision. “Lana, look out!”
A Rottweiler came charging, his attention locked on to Ralphie.
No, not quite charging. Loping. His body language radiated curiosity and not attack or aggression.
“Rolly! Stop!” In the far distance, a frantic young woman ran toward them.
Ralphie began pulling and barking. Lana hadn’t been paying close enough attention and stumbled as her dog jerked at the leash.
Marisol stepped in front of Lana and Ralphie, blocking them from the massive dog. “Ralphie! That’s enough!” She turned on Intimidation.
In the Japanese manga and Japanese anime that Marisol loved, characters would often have some power over their aura to project intimidation or pressure on an enemy. She always pictured that when she needed to project dominance toward a dog, which she thought of as flicking on her “Intimidation” switch.
Ralphie responded abruptly, plopping his butt on the ground and looking up at her as if she were waving around a pound of bacon.
Marisol turned toward the Rottweiler and powered up her Intimidation on him while thrusting her hand out. “Ah, ah!” she corrected him sharply. She acted as if she owned that 3x3 plot of land and the dog couldn’t approach her or her friends without her permission.
The poor Rottweiler had probably never been corrected so strongly in his life. Cowed by her alpha-dog-ness, he immediately dropped to his belly on the grass. He eyed Ralphie behind her for a brief moment, but she moved in front of his line of sight, body-blocking him. He then looked up at her obediently.
“Good dog,” she said in a higher-pitched, “happy” voice to praise him, but she didn’t touch him as his owner arrived.
“I’m so sorry.” The woman grabbed the Rottweiler’s trailing leash, but she was so short and slender compared to the hefty dog that she looked like a child holding the reins to a horse. “He just got away from me. How in the world did you do that?” From her accent, she sounded Filipino.
“I’m a dog trainer,” Marisol replied, a bit embarrassed as she noted a few other dog owners in the park who were staring at them.
“You are? Are you taking clients? Do you give classes? That was amazing.”
Marisol dug out a business card and handed it to the woman, who grabbed it like Ralphie grabbing at a piece of chicken.
“Thank you so much,” the woman said.
“You might want to consider a Halti or Gentle Leader head halter to control him, or a non-pull harness.” Marisol gestured to the Rotty, who eyed Ralphie but wouldn’t do anything more with Marisol still body-blocking him.
“A what?” The woman looked as if Marisol had spoken Japanese.
Marisol pointed to her business card. “My website has a page with resources that list the different types of head halters and non-pull harnesses. He’ll be less likely to tug you off your feet or get away from you.”
“Thanks again. You’ll definitely be hearing from me.” The woman gave a huge heave on the leash and pulled the Rottweiler away.
Marisol breathed a sigh, then turned around. Lana had gone a few shades paler. Ralphie was still sitting, but his butt wiggled and his tail whipped across the grass as he stared after the other dog.
“Are you all right?” Marisol asked.
“I’m fine, now.” Lana gulped.
“The Rottweiler was only curious. I could tell he wasn’t going to attack, but I also didn’t want to take any chances.”
Lana took a deep breath. “Tell me this,” she said in a more normal voice. “How can you face a 75-pound Rottweiler without blinking an eye, but you’re too afraid to face your own sister?”
The words fell between them slow and measured, like huge water drops.
She glanced back at the Rottweiler, then pictured her sister. Her stomach clenched again just at the mental image. “You’re absolutely right,” Marisol breathed. Then she sighed. "But it’s not like I can erase years of bickering, misunderstanding, and criticism in a single moment. She’ll hate me.”
Lana’s eyebrows rose. “More than she does now?”
“Right now, she doesn’t hate me. I embarrass her and she takes it like a personal insult that I won’t quit dog training.”
“This has nothing to do with dogs. You just don’t like conflict with her.”
“She’s my sister. Shouldn’t sisters get along?”
“Think about it logically. If you tell her about William, wouldn’t she be more likely to be mad at him? Why would she be mad at you? And even if she were, why would that be anything different than how she normally treats you?”
“The truth is … the truth is …” What was the real truth? “If I tell her about William, Jenessa will be … vulnerable.”
Lana blinked at her.
“Don’t you see? Jenessa has always been strong and confident. She achieved whatever she wanted—a successful, wealthy husband, a huge home in Kaimuki, two perfect kids, community work that wins her accolades in the Honolulu Bulletin. This news about William is going to open up a giant Pandora’s Box of insecurities and hurts—a box, mind you, that I’ve been very happy has been kept closed since we were in our twenties. Since …”
Lana’s eyes darkened. “Since Marshall.”
His name still caused a twinge somewhere just under her breastbone. Guilt, heartbreak, self-loathing, and regret. “I can’t witness her vulnerability. That’s what would make her hate me.”
“But how would her ignorance be any better? Your relationship with her is already bad—but you would have done the right thing.”
The right thing. Whenever she did the right thing, she only made things worse.
Lana pointed at the disappearing Rottweiler. “Rotty.” She gestured with her other hand. “Jenessa.”
“I'd take the Rotty any day."
Lana threw her hands out in frustration. “Marisol, grow a backbone.”