“Stay close, Agent,” Dr. Crow said, trotting quietly along the edge of the forest. “I am fairly certain that we can maneuver this way, find the object in question, and very quickly remove ourselves from the vicinity.”
The agent was a young fellow, and Kain’s practiced canine nose could detect the tell tale scents of fear—sweat, with a hint of urine. He folded his ears, trotting closer to the trees and peering around them.
“There. It should be near that—“
The sounds of laughter reached his ears, and he turned quickly, looking as a small group of children started running toward the tree line, maybe a hundred yards ahead. “Damn,” he muttered, growling softly. “Agent, hurry down there. Stop them. They may be potential worshipers…” he said. The last thing they needed was to let the Church of the Broken God get their hands on more members, much less sacrifices.
The Agent hurried off, and Kain leaned back, sitting on his haunches and watching him. The kid was young, and he might do well if he had a little more training. He just wished that he hadn’t gotten paired up with the new kid.
He was thinking about the children who might be lost in moments if the agent didn’t run faster when the net fell over his head.
He yelped in surprise, twisting. His first thought was that the Church had found him, but as he was hefted into the air, he caught the clean, crisp uniform that could only be Insurgency. He was certain that he was about to be dissected when the old man holding the net smiled at him congenially.
“At’s a good boy…”
Kain stared at the twinkling blue eyes of the dog catcher. ‘God damn it,’ he thought. ‘Not again…’
“The mission is simple enough,” Lament said. “I don’t see why you’re bringing… that thing again,” he said, pointing to Mann’s medical bag.
“Simply put, Agent, you carry the tools of your trade…” Mann said, gesturing to Lament’s gun belt. “And I will carry mine.”
“Yes, but yours normally end up causing more harm than good,” he said. “Remember when we had to deal with those two Marshall, Carter, and Dark reps?”
Mann nodded. “They were extremely interested in my collection of scalpels.”
“You pulled them out and showed them to them, one at a time.”
“They admired the quality workmanship.”
“You did it during the middle of a negotiation. Completely unprompted.”
“They were interested!” Mann insisted.
“They were terrified.”
“Bah! They had a professional, courteous curiosity about my position in the Foundation.”
“Oh, yeah,” Lament muttered. “And then you just had to start telling them about their names…”
“My scalpels are like my children.”
Lament took a moment to rub his eyelids. “Not when you name them after people who died while you were using them. Then they’re more your corpses.”
“Nonsense! Those people would be thrilled to live on in such a noble manner!”
“I think they’d have been more thrilled just to live on.”
Mann let out a long, sad breath. “Aye, but there’s the rub. Did you see my new one? Her name is Alice.”
Lament cringed. “God damn it…”
Lament listened as Mann described the lateral incision into the thoracic cavity with the sort of detail that only someone who truly and deeply loved their work could have expressed. He continued to listen to the story of the removal of the infected bowel, the careful preservation of the parasites, the implantation of the standard tracking device, and…
“That is when we realized that one of the parasites had already moved to her heart,” he said. “It ripped itself free and started chittering around in her rib cage. And I am, as you know, not one for dealing with that kind of nonsense.”
“Of course,” Lament agreed dryly.
Mann nodded firmly. “I plunged my blade through her heart and into its heart!” He mimed the stab a couple of times. “It was a double whammy. I don’t think I’ve ever managed something like that before.”
Lament paused for a moment. “You don’t… think?”
“Well, normally, when I stab someone in the chest, I don’t get a chance to examine them closely,” Mann explained.
Lament nodded, then started walking again. “Ahh. Of course.”
“I know. Such a waste. You should have seen her kidneys. Loveliest shade of brown,” Mann mused,
“Right. Yes. Well, I’m going to check out a car, if you want to start calling the local pounds.”
Mann frowned. “What? Why do you get to pick the car? You got to pick the car last time.”
“Because when you picked the car, you insisted on a fucking Toyota Avalon.”
“The Toyota Avalon has sixteen cubic feet of trunk space!”
“We aren’t transporting bodies across the border! We’re getting Kain out of the damned dog pound!”
Mann chuffed. “I think you underestimate the danger of this mission, Agent. We might have dozens of bodies to transport.”
“We shouldn't have any.”
Lament sighed. “If I get the Toyota, will you call the dog pounds?”
Mann smiled broadly. “Of course!” he said.
Lament nodded, waving Mann off as he trudged down the hall toward the motor pool. Some days, he wished he’d stayed on field duty. Psychopaths made so much more sense on field duty.
When he got back, Mann was just laying down the phone. “Only one shelter has had any dogs matching Kain’s description. Judging from the report of the agent on duty when Kain was abducted, this should be fairly open and shut.”
Lament nodded thankfully, walking to the car and heading toward the driver’s side. Mann coughed significantly. Lament raised his eyebrow.
“As the senior rank, I should drive,” Mann mentioned.
Lament laughed harshly. “I don’t think so. The last time you drove, we got pulled over. And the officer didn’t like your collection.”
Mann frowned. “He liked it eventually.”
“Drugging a man doesn’t count as making him like something. It doesn’t count as anything.”
“Semantics,” Mann said flatly. “I still insist on driving.”
“No,” Lament repeated, opening the driver’s side door.
Mann glared. “Fine! I will, albeit reluctantly, allow you to drive without complaint… so long as I can pick the music.”
Lament sighed. “No mariachi this time, right?”
“No, no. I was thinking something more… classic.”
Lament sighed again, then nodded. “Fine, fine,” he said.
Mann rubbed his hands together triumphantly, walking to the passenger side and getting into the car. As Lament fell into the driver’s seat, Mann lovingly pulled a cassette tape from his breast pocket. “Today… The Bee Gees.”
Lament cringed. “You can drive?” he offered.
“Too late,” Mann said, hitting play.
“More Than a Woman” came on as Lament drove out of the parking garage, and he decided it wasn’t that bad. Until Mann started singing along.
“Want the cover story?” Lament asked.
Mann pulled out an opened envelope, removing the folded paper and handing Lament two fake ID’s. “It seems that I am to be a Ricardo Mestabulan, and you are my loyal travelling companion and manservant, Percy.”
Lament looked down at the identification. “Percy?”
Lament bit his lip.
“You are aware that Percy is not a name that is used. By anyone. Ever.”
“I grew up with a Percy,” Mann replied.
“I… No. Just… do you have any concept of what someone my age would be named? I’m thirty-five. Percy… To be named Percy, you have to be… sixty. Minimum.”
“Ahh, but you’ve forgotten. We’re travelers,” Mann said.
“I fail to see what that has to do with anything.”
“We’re coming from a place where Percy is a very common name.”
Lament stopped, gripping the wheel tightly for a moment. “And where is that?”
Mann nodded. “Spain.”
“Percy is not a common Spanish name. There is no one in Spain named Percy.”
“I beg to differ. Census records show that ‘Per-cee-val’—” He said it with a pained accent. “—was used as a name seven times in the past decade.”
“But not Percy.”
“My identification says Percy. You Anglicized the name. You Anglicized my name, but left yours Ricardo. You don’t even look Spanish. You look… you look Scottish or something.”
Mann let out a long, flapping sound through his lips. “Scottish? Scottish?! Are you through being a racist ass, Lament?”
“I’m not being a racist ass. Mann sounds Scottish. You look Scottish. I mean, you’ve even got the mustache.”
Mann’s hand flew to his upper lip, covering it for a moment. “That is enough, sir!” he said sharply. “You were out there in the field too long, working with the Dodridge fellow. You have lost all sense of decency and propriety.”
“I’m afraid that being named Percy does that to you.”
“I am an Englishman, sir!”
“Noted. Next time, I’m picking the names.”
“Fine. Next time, pick the names. Pick the cover story. Pick the whole damn thing. I don’t care.”
They sat in silence for perhaps seven minutes before Lament spoke. “So, what’re the cover occupations?”
Mann pulled out a thick piece of manila paper, complete with embossed seal and golden lettering. “I… am a certified dog whisperer.”
Lament pulled up outside of the Spokane Animal Control Office, sighing. “Was he equipped?” he asked.
Mann shook his head. “No, no collar. We are going to be going in under the guise of recovering a client’s precious pet, which only I can identify thanks to my ability to understand dogs.”
Lament opened his mouth to speak, then shut it. Opened it again, then stopped, taking a deep breath. He motioned toward the door. “All you,” he said.
“Thank you, Agent,” Mann said, smiling and opening the door, striding into the pound as if he was entering a royal banquet hall. He stopped in front of the glass window, tapping on it with his finger as a fat, sour faced woman turned her eyes up at him. She had a forty year old face, though she couldn’t have been a day over thirty-five. Her skin sagged, signifying that she’d once been larger. Much larger.
“I am Ricardo Mestabulan,” Mann said, putting on an accent that sounded a fourth Japanese and the rest French-Canadian. “I called earlier. I am looking for the retriever.”
The woman looked unimpressed. “What is the dog’s name?” she asked.
“His name is Kain Pathos Crow,” Mann said. “He’s a very important dog. Belongs to the Crow family from West Seattle, near the Hempshire Crossings.”
Lament opened his mouth again, holding up a finger for a moment, then stopped. He stopped, dead, and took a step back, looking at the floor, counting the tiles. One tile, two tiles, three tiles…
“Did he have a collar on?”
“Nay,” Mann said. Lament flinched. “He slipped off his leash and was away from his owners before they could recover him. However, I can easily identify him, as I am… a dog whisperer.”
Fourteen, fifteen, sixteen…
The woman smacked her gum, blowing a bubble with it and letting it snap loudly. “Like Cesar Romero?”
“No,” Mann said sharply, looking affronted. “Cesar Millan.”
The woman narrowed her eyes. “Then who is Cesar Romero, huh?”
Lament coughed, and she turned and looked at him. “He… uh… he was the Joker. From Batman. You know. Adam West.”
The woman’s fat, piggy fingers wiggled, the dozens of rings on them flashing. “He’s that dog whisperer. On the Learning Channel.”
“Now, now, Percy. She is probably correct,” Mann said.
Lament stared at her. “Cesar Romero. Was the Joker. From Batman.”
She glared at him, her drawl becoming even thicker and more grating. “He is that dog whisperer from TEE-ELL-CEE!”
Lament took a step forward, and Mann turned, putting an arm across his chest, whispering sharply. “Let it go. Let it go, Lament. We have a mission.”
Lament hissed through his teeth quietly. “He’s the god damned Joker!”
“I know that, Lament. You know that. We both know. We can’t teach this one.”
Lament stopped, his eye twitching as he took a step back. His lips were tight as he swiveled them slightly. “You’re… probably right,” he said.
She smiled sourly and nodded. “Mhmm,” she said, looking down at her paperwork. “Says here we have two retrievers in,” she said. “Come on back and you can whisper at ‘em.”
As she stood up, Lament’s hand twitched toward his gun, but he stopped himself. She wasn’t worth it. She just wasn’t worth it.
The woman led both of them back into the rear room, Lament making sure not to look too carefully at the cages. Animals were not allowed on site unless they were anomalous. The last guy, who had brought his ‘anomalous’ hamster, was still being required to run a dozen tests a day and submit his findings continually to the site director. It wasn’t pretty.
She pointed to the cage with the two dogs. “There they are. Whisper ‘em,” she said, looking at Mann. She was breathing hard with the exertion of staying standing.
“Oh course!” Mann said, flourishing his hands. He looked at the two dogs. “Now. Which of you is Kain? Please, bark once for me!” he said, spreading his fingers and wiggling them, looking every ounce the 1920’s stage magician.
Neither of the dogs made a sound. The one on the left turned his head to the side.
Mann stopped, then frowned. “Kain, I need you to… bark! So we know it’s you!”
This time, the one on the right turned its head. The one on the left yawned, then turned three times and lay down on the floor.
Mann motioned for Lament to come closer. “Percy,” he said. “I need you to listen carefully,” he said.
The women frowned. “I thawt you was tha whisperer.”
Mann nodded. “Oh, yes, I am,” he said. “But he’s the listener,” he added, pointing at Lament.
The woman nodded. “Aww, yeah. Course.”
Lament nodded a little, leaning down next to the fence, listening carefully as Mann said. “Is there a reason you are silent and still? Are you… worried?! Afraid?! Speak, and let us know your needs!”
Lament listened, then frowned, looking at the two dogs. He turned his head up to look at Mann, then shrugged.
Mann coughed. “Kain… This is pretty important, now. You need to… let us know. Let us know, Kain.”
The dog on the left farted audibly.
Lament coughed, standing again. “Neither of these…”
Mann nodded. “Yes.”
“So where is he?”
“I haven’t the foggiest.”
“You said you called all the shelters.”
“I did! I’m certain of it.”
The woman smacked her lips again. “So, he ain’t here then?”
Lament turned and looked at her, reaching into his pocket and pulling out a chocolate. “Piece of candy?” he asked her.
She eyed it, eyed Lament, then took the candy, nodding and still glowering.
Both of them turned, walking out of the kennel and back toward the car. “If he’s not here,” Lament began, “then where is he?” he asked.
“Don’t have the foggiest,” Mann said. “What did you give her?”
“Class-A,” he said. “Standard procedure.”
“Might be too strong with someone like her.”
“God, I hope so,” he said, sighing deeply and climbing into the driver’s seat.
Inside the kennel, the women carefully unwrapped the chocolate, popping it in her mouth and heading back toward the front desk, sitting down in her chair. She swallowed it, wishing she’d asked for another, and leaned back, staring at the ceiling and trying to make pictures out of the water stains. The fat one on the left looked like a star, and it was her favorite. That night, when she went home, she watched television and fell asleep. The next morning, she looked at herself in the mirror, shocked to discover that she was no longer twenty-three.
She turned to the side, looking at herself. “But damn, girl… You have lost some weight…” she said.
Lament let out a long, tired sigh—something he has done far, far too often in this story—as he looked through the front windshield, driving back towards the city proper.
“So, if he isn’t here,” he asked. “Where is he?”
Mann tapped his finger on the console, eyebrows knitted together as he thought. “Well, none of the other shelters had a golden retriever. And none had recently been adopted. So he has to be somewhere.”
“Then where? What were they investigating?”
“A Splinter faction of the church believed to be worshiping a possible artifact. It was a simply reconnaissance mission.”
“I… you don’t think?”
“That the Church of the Broken God inducted the dog catcher just in case the Foundation sent sapient canines to spy on them? It was my first suspicion.”
Lament stared out of the windshield still, his face flat and expressionless. “Hell. Not like we have anything better to do.”
“Goodo!” Mann said excitedly, reaching for his bag. “Barbara and Jackson have been getting bored.”
Lament winced. “I wish you wouldn’t call them that. I knew Jackson.”
Lament quietly stepped closer to the clearing, watching as the large group of people seemed to be bowing and flailing their arms in the air, eyes ascending to heaven as they wiggled each of their fingers separately.
Mann was grinning wildly. “This looks like cake!” he whispered. “They’re not even looking for us!”
The man at the front of the crowd started to say something. Lament held up his hand to Mann for a moment, listening.
“And he will find you… keep you… and set you free!”
Lament frowned. “That.. that doesn’t sound right.”
Mann was rifling through the field bag for flash bangs. He looked up at Lament. “What doesn’t sound right?”
“Listen,” he said, pointing.
Mann stood, bringing the flash-bang with him in his hand, fiddling with the detonator.
Several of the worshipers raised their hands in praise. One of them fell on the ground, shaking and writhing in place.
“Awwwlll yawr mortal bawnds… will be severed. And you will be uplifted!”
Another of them jumped up, then started dancing across the front of the woodland church, twisting and turning, singing hallelujahs and glories unto the highest.
“Oh God. These people aren’t Broken God… I think they’re—”
Lament didn’t get a chance to finish the sentence. The flashbang slipped from Mann’s hand, landing on the ground at his feet, as a blinding flash caught Lament full in the face.
“Fuck! I can’t see!” he stammered, more loudly than intended, largely due to the bang that came with the flash.
Lament staggered to the side, feeling for the tree, when he felt hands close around his arms, pulling him forward. He was passed up from hand to hand, his ears ringing as he felt himself forced to his knees, a hand landing on his forehead. Through the ring, he barely made out the shouting voice.
“Would you be healed?!”
Lament blinked his eyes, nodding slightly as he barely saw the man raise his hand to the sky, then bring it down hard against Lament’s face, slapping the hell out of him.
“Oh, Jesus…” he stammered, falling to the ground.
“HALLELUJAH!” the crowd shouted.
“Can you see, brotha?” the man who’d slapped him yelled. “Can you see by the light of holy god?”
Lament squinted up at him, just barely making out his outline. “I can… I can see,” he stammered.
“HE CAN SEE!”
Another round of hallelujah went up, and Lament felt himself being dragged to his feet, people shaking his hands and hugging him, holding him against them and dancing him around the room. At one point, some people got out snakes and started wearing them. That was when he ran.
Lament sat on the curb of the park next to Mann, the latter of whom was bandaging his leg. “Stupid things…” Mann muttered.
“You… You’re not allowed to use those anymore,” Lament muttered.
“You act like it was a major problem,” Mann defended. “You were fine! You were better than fine! You gave those people something they might have never had in their lives.”
Lament managed to keep from punching Mann as the white, square shaped truck drove by, the old man in the seat moving about fifteen miles an hour. He stopped in front of them.
“Either of you two lose a dog?” he asked.
Lament looked up at him. “I… Golden retriever?” he asked.
The man grinned, putting the truck in park and stepping out. “That’s the one. I've been looking for this boy’s owners all day!” he said, walking around to the back door and opening it. He worked a cage, then hooked a leash onto something inside, tugging it and bringing the dog out, smiling as he walked him over.
The dog was wagging madly, jumping a bit as he got close to the two of them. The old man laughed. “Oh, yeah. The one is yours,” he said, laughing and handing the leash to Lament.
Lament just stared at the old man as he waved and walked back to the truck, closing the back of it, then getting in and driving away. Stared and stared, his jaw slightly slackened.
Kain rested on his haunches. “What a nice guy!” he said, smiling and panting just a touch. “He gave me a treat.”
Mann finished bandaging his leg finally. “I thought you didn't like treats.”
“I like some treats,” Kain said.
Mann peered. “What treats?”
Kain shuffled for a moment, either paw rising and falling. “Chocolate.”
“God damnit, Kain, you know you can't have chocolate. You're a dog!”
“I can have some chocolate.”
“No! No chocolate! God! I did not go to medical school for my patients to ignore my advice!”
Lament stopped for a moment, looking at Mann. “I… Medical school?”
Mann frowned. “Yes.”
“But… he's a dog.”
"Wouldn't that be veterinary school?" Lament asked.
Mann peered carefully at Lament. Lament peered back. Slowly, both of them looked at Kain, who shrugged. “Anyhow, I'm ready to go back to base now.”
Lament felt a headache coming on slowly. He reached down and undid the leash, walking toward the car and rubbing his ears. Kain padded along beside him, while Mann gimped in behind them. As the three of them got into the car, Mann reached over and turned on the music.
“Stayin’ Alive” came on as he pulled out, and Kain barked once. “Oh! Turn this one up! I love this song!”
This time, Lament sang along too.