Martin Gardens had been a manager, a drunk, an arsonist, a mechanic, and a private investigator. Each he pursued with earnest conviction but there was only one in which he demonstrated natural talent: And it scared the hell out of him. Add a stray, brindle-coat Boxer with a battle-scarred ear that resembled his own and a mottled British sports car more family member than transport, and the equation equals one last chance for a fresh start; one last chance for a hard reset. You choose a direction and it begins. What happens next is not so much about planning as it is about luck. Life unfolds; a path beckons. Routine and obligation and occasional joy fill the empty places. With a little luck, even love. With a lot of luck, happiness. The pieces fall together and you find a fit; you are what you do. The tracks in the snow tell the story. Stray and I were in the kitchen. I fed him a few dog biscuits, put him on a sit command, and balanced a rawhide bone on his blunt nose. We had been cohabitants for a short time, but already he'd learned this trick. I snapped my fingers and he snatched the bone off his nose, wagged his stubby tail and paraded the kitchen with his prize held high. I don't know if he did it just to please me or if he really enjoyed his performance, but every time we enacted this ritual, I came to realize the lengths animals go in order to earn approval. I was unloading the dish rack when the phone rang. I didn't get many calls at the apartment line, and when I did, it was usually a telemarketer or Tom wearing his AA sponsor cap. The ring sounded the same as always, but this time it felt ominous. I slung the dishtowel over my shoulder and answered. "Hello?" The line was quiet. I could feel my stomach tighten as I strained to listen. "Hello?" I pressed the receiver close to my good ear and held my breath. On the other end of the line was the rhythmic patter of rainfall and slow breathing. "Who is this?" There was nothing but the sound of rain, more breathing and some muted voices in the background. I took a leap of faith. "You got my letter." A definite, forceful exhalation and then finally, in a voice that hadn't changed with time, she spoke. "Carolyn wants you to find Edward." "Carolyn?" "Find him." "Why?" She cleared her throat. "To remove him." More rain, breathing, and a raspy, smoker's cough. People in the background were speaking but I couldn't make out what they were saying. "Find him," she repeated. Another pause, this time with no breathing, no rain, no background voices, but a definite personal presence that I could feel through the phone line. "You owe Carolyn." Then the line went dead. Stray pressed against my leg, stubby tail wagging, loose lips stretched around his bone as if he were smiling. I hung up the phone and reached to scratch behind his mangled, right ear. "You'll never believe who that was." Stray stared at me as if waiting for an explanation. I returned to the dish rack and put the last few plates in the cupboard. Stray went to the front door and sat as I leaned against the counter, dishtowel in my hands, mind back in the high school parking lot where Carolyn stood, textbooks in her arms, long dark hair framing her oval face. I sat watching from my car, hands squeezing the steering wheel, stomach clenched with an ache that made my eyes water. Stray dropped his bone as I ran a hand through my hair and probed my gut. All these years later and I still nursed the duodenal ulcer that began in high school. Stray crouched on the floor watching my every move. "Well, what do you think? Want to take a ride?"