They both decided to start walking toward the town without needing to say anything. The road was best avoided. Less cover. He tossed the shells from the nuts into the grass as they walked. Rhoda’s black and tan coat faded into the background if she ventured too far off. The only trace of white was on her belly and one paw, a little odd for a beagle.
Though she bounded through the brush, it wasn’t a carefree romp. Her ears were constantly twitching and every once in a while she lifted her front left leg and pointed with her nose. They moved carefully around the areas she identified. He kept low for the most part. The first few weeks his back had hurt so much he hadn’t thought he’d been able to go on, but now a running slouch was his natural posture.
Every once in a while he lifted his head up higher to get a look around. Rhoda stopped whenever she saw him doing this and followed close behind him for a while after. They’d learned to trust each other’s senses. The trees dotting the fields were splashes of color against the otherwise uniform brown. Orange, red, and yellow stained the leaves. They twisted in the wind, each gust pulling more to the ground.
The tall grass got a little shorter once they reached the edge of town. No matter how low he crouched now, he’d be visible. Rhoda’s lips pulled back away from her teeth. She stood rooted to the ground, growling silently. He reached down and gave her tail a flick to get her attention.
The dog watched his hand move toward his belt. Undoing a clasp, he pulled open a leather catch. Grabbing the handle, he pulled a knife out of its sheath on his hip. Sunlight glinted off the long blade. His other hand adjusted his glasses again. He’d started to sweat despite the chill in the air and they were slipping down his face.
The pair circled around a couple of the houses, squeezing between a fence and a row of trees where the bare soil held no secrets. To their left, holes in the unkempt grass loomed. It was hard to keep his eyes off them.
Rhoda froze and he almost walked into her. Her tail fell to the earth and her back legs quivered. Gripping his knife tighter, he held his breath. A soft scraping noise was coming from the other side of the fence. He saw movement through an empty knot in one of the planks. The man and dog stood perfectly still, waiting until minutes after they last heard anything.
Kneeling down next to Rhoda, he whispered, “That was close.”
Now that they were inside the town, he crept between cover. He tested the handles of any cars and trucks they passed, checking to see if any were unlocked. Next to one, he found a piece of solid metal pipe. Picking it up, he liked the feel of it, so he stuck it through his belt and into one pocket to hold it in place. Rhoda left him long enough to sniff a garbage can, but she trotted back in moments. Her wrinkled nose told him everything he needed to know.