Another day dawned, still with no word on Briggs. I laid in bed, listening to Josh’s quiet breathing next to me. Rolling over, I stared at Briggs’ empty bed, and my chest constricted, tight bands of fear crawling up my back. It was hard to breathe, and anxiety threatened to engulf me. The oppressiveness blanketed me as heavily as the humidity that had taken hold of our city overnight — thunderstorms were in the forecast.
Will the tape give way under the rain, banishing our flyers to the gutters with the rest of the litter? The thought almost brought me to tears. My working knowledge of the strength of tape had stopped at grade school construction projects, but I was rather certain that tape and water didn’t play well together.
Josh’s first hurling match was later that day, and I noticed him weighing the pros and cons of going.
I looked at him in disbelief.
“Don’t tell me you’re even considering going off to play some intramural game when we should be out hunting for Briggs.” Furious, I stomped away from him.
I felt the anger building, but I wasn’t really mad at Josh. I knew he was harboring an incredible amount of guilt and sadness because Briggs’ abduction had happened on his watch. I suppose I just needed a target for my anger. We are often hardest on those closest to us, and I didn’t mean for Josh to take the brunt of my frustration and heartache. Nevertheless, as my anger reached a boiling point, I was prepared to rattle off every last reason as to why Josh shouldn’t go to his game. I was ready for a fight.
Calmly, Josh explained to me that his team might not have enough players and would have to forfeit, but he offered to call his captain and find out. Feeling childish, I stormed around the house, making angry noises. I was frustrated because we weren’t moving. We weren’t doing anything. We always have to be doing something. How else could we save Briggs?
Josh came back from his phone call with the “all clear” from his team captain, saving me from a poor display of temper. He looked at me questioningly.
I was the queen of this search, yet I had no strategic plan. We would come to realize that this was one of the hardest parts of the search. Where have we been? Where have our friends been? How do we coordinate efforts? Will we overlap? What makes the most sense? What’s the best use of our time?
Time. How much time does Briggs have? Torturing myself with thoughts of Briggs’ death, I again forced my emotions back down.
We decided to go after the animal lovers first. Because it was Sunday, we were sure we’d find a few at dog parks and pet stores. Unfortunately, there’s really no rhyme or reason to where these places are located. Trying to map a path that made sense would take hours. The inefficiency was enough to make me want to scream.
Reasoning that dog parks made the most sense, we started there. The hot wind kicked up dust and ripped flyers from our hands as we spoke with dozens of concerned dog owners. Lack of sleep and the humidity slowed our efforts. A storm was approaching.
Moving on, we mapped out the best route to several pet stores. Some welcomed us with open arms and were prepared to offer all the help they could; others, quite unexpectedly, hustled us off of their property like we were trying to sell them life insurance. I simply could not believe that any pet store would refuse to help. Wasn’t their very business to support animal lovers? Refusing to accept no for an answer and sticking with our “relentless” mantra, we learned to simply smile nicely, walk outside, and hand flyers directly to their customers as they parked. “No” was not an acceptable answer for us.
Later that day, we communed with Josh’s MHC friends, Clodagh and Brian, a young couple in their early thirties. Clo and Brian were the early responders when our cry for help had first gone out about Briggs. In need of sustenance and a bit of a break, we met them at a local pub.
We sat at the bar and ordered our food. Listless, I picked at the cracked corner of a menu and let the noises of the bar settle around my shoulders. Bacon-wrapped scents enticed my empty stomach as I nursed a cold cider, hoping the alcohol would numb me further. I was seated at the far end of the group and had tuned everybody out when I felt the wind shift through the open doorway, accompanied by a sudden temperature drop.
The storm had arrived.
The sky began to weep; I tried hard not to do the same. I stared down blindly at my food, my appetite gone. All I could see were hundreds of flyers getting washed away, and defeat weighed on my shoulders.
My phone rang from a restricted number. I gulped and answered it, hating callers that intentionally hid their phone numbers.
“Yeah, yeah, yeah. So…I’ve got your dog. What’s the reward? I got him,” a male voice boomed at me.
Stuttering, I tried to think of the right things to say.
“Um…uh…can you, um…tell me what he looks like?” I asked.
“Yeah. He black and white and have a bent leg.”
“A bent leg?” I asked, confused. What the…?
“Yeah, his front leg, the one with the sock. It’s bent. You offerin’ a reward. What is it? I want the reward.”
It was then that I realized he was simply describing the picture of Briggs that we had placed on the flyer; his leg was bent in the picture. My core went cold.
“Great,” I said. “If you’ll send me a picture, we can meet and exchange the reward for our dog.” I hung up and saw everyone staring at me, their mouths agape; they were shocked at my callous disregard for the caller.
“What the hell, Tricia?” Josh asked, furious, and obviously thinking I’d screwed everything up.
I explained that the caller just wanted the reward.
“He described the picture of Briggs to a T, yet he couldn’t give me any real information.”
My phone rang again, and I quickly handed it to Josh.
He thinks this is so easy — let him handle it this time, I thought.
I watched as Josh fumbled through the call and hung up. He looked at me in understanding.
This was another glaring problem in our plan: We had no script, no right way to handle those kinds of calls. All we could do was try to keep the person talking and go on instinct. We had no idea where our lead would come from.
As the last traces of the storm moved out over Lake Michigan, we left to assess the damage. We followed Lincoln Memorial Drive home and tried to place flyers in the main intersections. The tape struggled to stay on the wet poles, only to give up the fight against the water.
We’d hit our limit for the day, and I refused to break down over tape. It was time to go home.
As night fell, I waited for my parents to come over to collect their cat, which we’d been watching while they’d been vacationing in Mexico. There’s something about seeing your parents in the middle of a tragedy. Part of me wanted to hug my mom and cry for hours, but the other part felt compelled to reassure them that we were okay and could handle it.
I could see how upset they were and how helpless they felt. My dad was ready to wage war on everyone and encouraged us to move outside of Milwaukee. My mom was more concerned about our welfare and wanted to make sure we’d been eating and getting enough sleep.
Grateful for their concern, but beyond exhausted, we hugged them and sent them and their cat, Scrapper, on their way. Thank goodness Scrapper’s safe, I thought. I’m not sure if I could have lived with someone else’s animal getting stolen on our watch.
After they left, we sat on the couch in our silent house, drapes drawn, and looked at each other. When the phone rang again, I stared at it, nerves making me punchy. Taking a deep breath, I answered.
“Hello? Hello? I’m calling about your dog!”
Bar noise filled my ears, music, glasses clinking, and people laughing. I could hear people yelling to the caller — laughing and shouting about Boston terriers. As the caller stumbled through her story of buying a Boston terrier for $100 (“No, say ’$200’!” someone shouted in the background), my stomach turned. I tried to get details about where she was and what the dog looked like.
“Its tail is docked,” she said.
That stopped me. Briggs’ docked tail wasn’t visible in the photos. All of the sudden, I was very, very scared for Briggs. I tried to convince her to meet me and suggested we meet by a police station. The click of a disconnected call doubled as her answer.
Shit, I thought. Shit, Shit, Shit.
“What are you doing, Tricia? You can’t ask them to meet you at a police station. Nobody’s going to do that!” Josh said, his frustration obvious.
“I can’t help it, Josh! I don’t know what to do! It is almost eleven p.m. on a Sunday. I don’t know what to say or how to handle this. Tell me a safe meeting place. I mean, how do I know it’s not a setup? Maybe they’re plotting to jump us because they know we’ll have a cash reward on us,” I said, frantic.
The woman’s words harassed my mind: “His tail is docked.”
Ten minutes later, the phone rang again. Silently, I handed it to Josh, but as soon as the caller heard a man’s voice, they hung up. We reviewed the details of the phone call and Googled it, only to find they’d called from a bar in the heart of the city. Distraught and unsure what to do, Josh and I reviewed our options.
Three minutes later, the phone rang again. Frustrated, I grabbed it and answered.
“Hi. You don’t know me, but I have a Boston terrier, too, and your story has me really upset.” The caller proceeded to break down into choking sobs and talked my ear off for a half-hour about how upset she was — all at nearly midnight on a Sunday.
I gently disengaged from the phone call. How can we keep doing this? I wondered. We hadn’t realized that we would have to manage other people’s emotions. Why was I talking someone through hysterical sobs when we were the ones with the stolen dog? Why was I reassuring her? The irony of it floored me. My strength was reserved for Briggs, and Briggs alone.