Discussing facing a dilemma
This is a story about a direct question that led to a most interesting revelation. It happened a few years ago one cold winter’s night. I was in our country house sitting in front of the fire in the company of my oldest friend and neighbour, Henri, enjoying a superb calvados.
I asked Henri the following question.
“Have you ever been faced with a dilemma that might have had serious repercussions on your life?”
“Why do you ask?”
“Henri, old boy, do you remember I emailed me a story from the local newspaper, around the time of the pandemic, about an elderly woman and her Doberman dog who were found dead in the forest of Breuil. It appears she had had a massive heart attack. But what was odd the dog lay dead beside her with its head smashed in by a large log that was found near her body. After reading the story I speculated on what type of person would be in the forest and why he, or she, killed the dog.”
“Yes, I do remember you sending me the story, particularly as you knew I go walking sometimes in the forest. In fact if my memory is correct I never replied. I also recalled reading, at a later date, a long article about the case. She was the wife of a Parisian lawyer that had a residence in the vicinity. The article said they had only acquired the property some five years ago. According to the neighbours they tended to come to their residence during the summer months, but since two years ago the couple, according to the article, are often there in the winter months. It is believed they have two married children living in America. Apparently they were very private people having very little contact with the surrounding community. The dog I understand was disliked as it had already bitten the postman. Since that time he refused to deliver the post to their front door, but instead threw it over the front hedge.
The news article also noted it seemed strange that a relatively old couple coming from Paris possessed a large dog like a Dobermann. The ownership history probably relates back to when their children lived with them. According to the autopsy the woman died of a major heart attack. There seems to be no suspicion of any fowl play or that she had been attacked. What intrigues the police is the dog’s death as it had been hit on the head with a large log that was found a few feet away. The article concluded somebody must have been at the scene to administer such a forceful blow. They were asking for anybody who was in the vicinity of the forest to come forward.
George, this situation posed a serious dilemma for me as I was the person that killed the dog.”
My first reaction was to nearly choke on a sip of calvados that touched my lips. After a few seconds I recovered enough to ask in a squeaky voice. “Tell me what exactly happened.”
I saw Henri looking intently into the fire before he started recounting what had actually happened. Before he spoke he took a gulp from his half empty glass.
“It was my last walk in the forest before returning to London the next day. When I arrived at the forest there was one other car in the parking lot. I noticed it was a smart mini cooper. I was not surprised by the lack of visitors to the forest as it was later and within approximately 40 minutes of the curfew imposed by the government to combat the pandemic. So I started walking at an accelerated pace down a little used path that ran across the forest.
I was surprised to see about 200 meters in front of me an elderly woman walking with what looked like a large dog. The animal, without a leash, was a few meters ahead of her. My instant thought was that it seemed odd to find this elder woman on the path, also it seemed incongruous to be accompanied by such a large dog. As I was walking at a fast pace I soon started to catch them up. The dog must have heard me coming as he turned in his track, snarled and with his snout showing his fangs careered towards me. The woman tried to stop him by shouting a command. But I quickly sensed she had no control over him. The dog came bounding forward ignoring his mistress’s command. I realized as the dog came closer he was preparing to jump on me. His whole profile was that of a mean, aggressive animal. I saw a large log lying in the grass at the side of the path. I quickly bend down to pick it up. As I did so the dog swerved to jump on my back. As I rose from my bent position, with the log in hand, I swung it with all my might at the dog, by this time he was in the process of attacking my back with a flying leap. The force of my swing, the dog jumping in the air, combined with the weight of the log had the effect of throwing the dog backward and he crashed to the ground like a heavy stone. I took one look at him and saw my effort had completely crushed his head. He was dead. I stood over him with a feeling of sorrow as he was a magnificent specimen. By this time the elderly woman had arrived on the scene speaking a jumble of words in an attempt to apologize. I turned to her.
“He is dead.”
She just glared at me. “It’s not possible.”
“I am lucky to be alive. A dog like that should never be without a leash in a public place particularly as you appeared to have no control over him. I'm truly sorry but I was forced to defend myself.”
“Truly sorry, truly sorry, you are a monster.” With that she burst into tears and started to hit out at me.
I push her off. “Madame, I fully understand you are upset. If you think you have grounds for a complaint against me I suggest you contact the police.”
I gave her my name and address in London. As neither of us had any means of writing the address down. She asked me to repeat it. She mumbled about having a good memory.
“Now I must go so I suggest, if you have a portable phone use it to call somebody to help you with the dog.”
“I don’t have a phone on me.” She replied with a voice restricted by her continually crying.
“Neither do I. It seems very imprudent at your age to be in the forest alone without a phone. In these circumstances there is nothing we can do about the dog. I advise you to go home and get some help.”
I was turning to go when I had the thought of trying to help her.
“I assume the mini cooper in the parking lot is yours. I could drag the dog to your car, if that would be of any help.”
This suggestion caused a violent emotional outburst.
“Never, never will you touch my beautiful Punch, you monster. Get out of here and leave me with him.”
With that she again burst into a storm of tears and knelt down and threw her arms around Punch. I could see she was very upset to the point of having an emotional reaction. But frankly after being nearly involved in a struggle for survival with a raging dog I had no incentive to stay with her, added to that I was clearly not wanted. She did not seem a very pleasant individual. If she remembered my address I was convinced I would be hearing from her through the police. She appeared to be one of those people that believes they have a right to some superior protection above lesser mortals.
I left with the image of her kneeling down holding her dog closely to her breast. The parking was as empty as when I arrived, except for my hired car from London and the mini cooper. On the drive back to our cottage I decided to say nothing to my family. It was my last night after an extended stay due to the pandemic. Also I had a few things to settle before we left. I knew that talking about my forest adventure would entail endless discussions on the best cause of action. Better let sleeping dogs lie and wait and see if the police or woman contacts me. The image of the woman bent over her dog stayed with me for several days. It must have been her profile of incomprehensible distress. The dog's death had clearly provoked a deep emotional reaction. I remember when my dog died, at the time I felt a great sense of sadness. I therefore had a dose of sympathy for her.
Then your email arrived about the heart attack of the woman and the dog’s death in the forest that had consumed the local news for a few days. No, I never acknowledged it. Now you know why.
He stopped and drained the last dregs of calvados from his glass.
I was about to say something but Henri continued his story.
“Your email put me in a difficult predicament. Apart from it being very disturbing and sad news it left me with some difficult decisions. Up until this time I had not told anybody about the event therefore I had no one to turn to. I spent two day fretting about whether I should confide in somebody. You, dear George, would have been the ideal person. I decided against it, as I know any level headed person would advise me to go to the police with my story. I reasoned that if I went to the police I might be accused of leaving a person in danger. Whatever the outcome it would mean endless discussions, appointing lawyers, facing the press, implicating my parents would live in the area, meaningfully disturbing my professional and family life. I felt convinced I had offered, under demanding circumstances, my help and sympathy. I had no idea that by killing her beloved Punch would set off such a destructive emotional reaction that, no doubt, might have been the cause of a massive heart attack. I honestly stuck the dam dog in self-defence never imagining the strength of my blow with the log would kill the animal. The key question for me remains: did anybody see me in the forest that night. By not coming forward there lay the gamble. I struggled with this dilemma. A cascade of thoughts kept running through my brain. If anybody was in the vicinity they would have heard the woman shouting, crying and screaming. Surely they would have come to see what was happening. The car park was deserted except for my car and the mini. It snowed during that night covering any signs of footprints and tire marks. I left for England the next morning. My car had only been seen on two or three occasions in the forest’s parking over the previous two months as I only occasionally took it when I went to the forest, but why would anybody take down a car registration number? There are no surveillance cameras in the area. Weighing up the pro’s and con’s was a trying and exhausting emotional effort. I chose the gamble that my story would remain secret. Did I do the right thing?”
Before I answered I gave each of our glasses a lick as we call it of calvados.
“It’s an unusual story with a surprising and unpleasant turn of events. I think you were right in supposing that if you had come forward explaining you killed the dog to defend yourself with no knowledge of the actual state of the woman's health you still might have been charged. I understand you extended your hand to help as she seemed under considerable stress, only to be rebuffed. You might, I use the word might carefully, have been cleared of any charges as regards her death, but there would always be a flavour of suspicion left in the public minds and possibly that of the law. I agree with you if you had sought somebody's advice he or she would probably have told you to go to the police accepting all the problems that entailed. I cannot condone your behaviour but from your point of view the gamble seemed the right solution. But, Henri be warned these mysteries have long lives and some people are determined to try and find the truth. In fact I read somewhere that the husband of the woman for about six months spent some money trying to solve the death of their dog. To no avail, nobody came forward in fact the opposite as their neighbours were pleased to see the dog dead. I also heard he had sold his house and left the area after being allowed to place a plaque in the forest in remembrance of his wife and dog. But the question I would like to ask is that do you continually think about it?”
“You know, George, unlike a computer that has a prodigious memory we humans are only blessed with a selective memory and traumatic experiences tend to always be in the forefront of our memory. Unfortunately we have no capacity to delete as we can on a computer. So in the early stages of this saga I found myself often thinking about the incident. In fact I did some research on the husband. He is a senior partner in a medium sized French law firm that has a good reputation. I also half expected to be contacted by the French police. As time passed the memory started to fade, but deep down I am always living with the image of the woman caressing her dead dog. Could I have been more proactive in helping the woman in her distress? Should I have immediately contacted the police? Did I feel a sense of guilt for her death? These were the sort of questions that continually circled my mind. The next meaningful jolt to my memory was one day in Paris about six month ago. I was at a seminar for French corporate law and one of the speakers was the woman’s husband. He seemed to be not a very likeable individual, but then I suppose I am not a good judge. It is now over five years ago but the memory is still there. I am thankful to say it is slowly disappearing into the hazy past. No doubt it will never completely leave me.
I would ask my involvement in this affair but kept it secret. It is one of those not very pleasant situations in life when we are faced with a difficult dilemma.”
“Of course, you have my word. Listening to your story I am convinced you conducted yourself admirably considering the circumstances. I am proud of you.
“You know I think on that note it is an ideal time for me to leave, I will see you in a month's time. Thank you for listening. It has been most helpful in relieving any sense of guilt, I should have told you a few years ago.”