The Dogman Chronicles: Dogboy and Rover, Part Two

I eventually braved my outer office and my secretary. Signs were good – she didn’t throw anything. I did not ask why she had been so angry – I was still in favor of avoiding the throwing things part. I did get a few routine matters cleared up, assigned the new caseload to the various managers and answered all correspondence. Then, bidding Sonia good night, I departed.

My company, my rules – so why do I tolerate a secretary that can be that irascible? Simple – try finding a real secretary nowadays. Sonia can take dictation, knows shorthand, spells better than my computer, and could manage the place for a month without me. Other than my signature and occasional input, she doesn’t need me – which is not true the other way around.

Besides, she only really throws notebooks and paperclips and then only at John because he deliberately riles her. For my staff, she’s a second mother. Woe be unto anyone foolhardy enough to mess with her kids – biological, adopted or honorary. If I believed in reincarnation, I’d guess she’d been a bulldog in several former lives.

If she ever does start throwing staplers, we’ll just get rid of them all – Sonia was my second secretary and this business wouldn’t have gotten off the ground without her. It’ll probably go under a few years after she retires. Which reminds me, I need to call her eldest son and make sure he’s on hand when she sees her real retirement package. I don’t cheat anyone – I sure as heck won’t cheat her – so she’s not taking the standard option package she selected when we put these things together. She’s taking the premium I paid for – I just need her son there to keep her from killing me when I tell her. I’ll figure out how to tell her about the 401k sometime later this year, before the new tax rules. I make a note of it and file for future, I hope distant future, reference.

I get the car from the underground parking lot. ’77 Trans Am Firebird, fully rebuilt, black with the firebird in gold – yes, I own every Burt Reynolds movie ever made. Bandit was the first movie I remember ever seeing in a theater and the first time I ever thought superheroes might be real. It was a dingy dollar theater, the movie was fifteen years old then and my foster sister treated me to popcorn. The Bandit is one of my few good childhood memories; the car is a reminder that the past isn’t all bad.

“Rover.”

“10-4, Good Buddy?”

“Order pizza,” I tell the AI, “The usual. Also, reschedule tomorrow’s training at the gym for Friday.”

“Roger, wilco. Over and out”

Yeah, I’m stuck in a decade that ended before I was born. At least I didn’t name it KITT.

 

The Dogman Chronicles: Chapter One: Dogboy and Rover

Before I could drift off again, someone started pounding on the door. I didn’t bother to get up or to ask. “GET IN HERE ALREADY, BARTLEY!” I roared, immediately regretting it.

As the door opened, Sonia was in full roar letting the young lieutenant have it with both barrels. The combination of Russian, Yiddish, Hebrew, English and a smattering of fluent cursing in all four would have probably intimidated anyone else. John Bartley just smiled politely, looked appropriately chagrined and backed into my office. He knew better than turn away from her while office supplies were at hand and she was that mad. Ironically, he’s the only one that needs to know better.

Little sleep and more alcohol than I like did not go well with yelling, at least not as far as my now aching head was concerned. I glared at him as I got up to go to the minibar.

“Please tell me you just forgot to ask something and how to use the phone.” I growled as I fished out the aspirin from the bottle.

“Sure, would that make you feel any better?” he asked like the bright eyed smart alec he is. John Bartley was born in the wrong decade. Square jawed, good looking, all American poster boy of a bygone era, he’d fit perfectly into any movie from the Forties or Fifties. His lifestyle fit as well – cop with wife and 2.5 kiddies at home.

“Probably not.” I admitted, downing the aspirin and OJ chaser. “So, what do you need? I gave up everything I could last night…”

John watched me rinse out the glass. He’s not the nervous sort but he wasn’t happy to be asking for favors. “Well, we ran down the addresses you gave us but they’d already been cleaned out.”

“How’s that? What tipped them off?”

“Nothing. The kid you caught said they were already moving out – had been a couple days. Your girl was the last one – just happenstance you got there when you did.”

“You believe that?” I asked, raising an eyebrow.

He shrugged, “About half, maybe. I think they were already moving – we found a few witnesses that back that part up at least. You said fifteen minutes, right?”

I nodded, leaning on the cabinet, “About that, yeah.”

“Then either she was last or…”

“They hadn’t moved far.” I finished the thought. “And you have no complaint, and no warrant, right?”

“I got hundreds of complaints, just none I can tie to this.” Bartley snapped. “Anyway,” his tone softened, “we were wondering…”

“If we just might have an extra tidbit in reserve? Sorry, no. And I don’t do pro bono, you know that.” I finished my OJ and headed for the desk. “Got nothing for you. Someday you’re gonna have to start working for a living.”

He just watched as I slid behind my desk, and listened as I berated him for police incompetency,  being a mooch and having bad taste in baseball teams. I dialed a familiar number, and added a glare at Bartley for effect.

Someone picked up. “Hey, Max, it’s me. Sonia give you the news?… Good, good. … Say listen, there’s a dumb jerk cop in my office that wants to track down the rest of those kids but has his thumbs all tied in the Constitution so I thought I’d warn you not to get bored and try finding the new place then accidentally dump the address in that private shared file thing. The cops might find it and that would be bad for the Constitution and stuff.”

Max grunted on the other end something about young people having no respect for elders and for me to get off his lawn, then hung up.

“He says get off his lawn.” I told Bartley.

“I’d have to buy him one first.” Bartley replied.

He was turning to go when Sonia buzzed me. He eyed the door a bit more cautiously – staplers hurt when hurled by irrational secretaries. I picked up, listened. Listened some more. Listened a lot more. Both of us sat down and I kept listening.

After what seemed an hour, Sonia finally made enough sense for me to get the gist of it. I finally dared to speak, “You know, you could ask him….”

I didn’t chance that again. Five more minutes of listening and I meekly promised to do as requested. Some battles you can’t win – and some you shouldn’t try.

“You may want to use the elevator in the office.” I told him. “Friday, I wanna know what the heck you did. Anyway, she wants to know when Melinda is due.”

“End of next month.” He grinned, “The twenty-eighth is when they plan to induce if the munchkin doesn’t come sooner. We’re gonna call her Emily Sonia – I swear, it’s Melinda’s grandmother’s name.”

“You told her?” I asked incredulously.

“Sure, when we thanked her for the diaper subscription. I can’t decide if she’s happy or not. About that anyway – obviously not happy now.” Bartley explained.

“Okay, fine.” I texted the date to my irate secretary, “It’s on her calendar…” A reply came. “You need a sitter for the boys?”

“My sister is supposed to come – would she mind being backup?”

I texted, she replied, I relayed and he left through the private elevator. Not the most insane day I’ve ever had at the office, unfortunately. I went back to my desk and dutifully checked my email. I didn’t want Sonia any madder than she already was and I really didn’t want to think about what the heck a ‘diaper subscription’ might be.

 

The Dogman Chronicles: Prologue, Part Three

I’m awake at six. I don’t want to be but years of habit do not end because you are severely sleep deprived. Morning calisthenics out of the way, I trot down to the hotel gym and get some sweating in.

Breakfast is ordered and waiting for me when I get back to the room. Morning necessities are completed, bags packed and a sizable tip left for the young lady who made sure I had extra marmalade which puts me on the pavement by nine. A quick side trip to dispose of the rental and a quick taxi ride to pick up my own ride put me only slightly behind. I walk across the threshold of Hund Investigations Incorporated at 10:04.

I take the private elevator up. Three hours sleep is not enough to make me suitable company for any human that wants more than a hello. I’ll need a lot more coffee for that. I’m not surprised to find my coffee waiting for me on my desk alongside the paper copy of the report I submitted last night. Computers will never replace a really good secretary.

I scan the report for the corrections and initial each as I okay them. Sonia was born in Russia and grew up in Israel, She didn’t learn English until she immigrated here in her thirties yet she’s better than my tablet’s spell check. I sign off on the report and toss it in the outbox.

Nothing in email or the inbox needs immediate response. I finish my coffee, wander over to the couch and catch up on the rest of my sleep. It’s good to be the boss sometimes.

I wake up vaguely pondering for the millionth time why exactly Sonia is so danged convinced that I need to still do field work? I used to think she just didn’t understand the changes as the business grew but she can direct managers better than I can so that’s out. Then I thought she just wanted me to keep my hand in as a way to stay sharp but she doesn’t care what I work as long as it’s a case and I leave the office at least once. Dog finding cases satisfy her so that can’t be ir, either. I began to suspect she wanted me out of the office and out of her hair, but there is no pattern to it other than me bringing in direct revenue at least weekly and she can take any day off she likes and knows it. So that makes no sense/

Lately, in the back of my mind, it’s begun to worry me. There’s one other possibility – the one that scares me, There;’s only one thing in my life she isn’t supposed to know. Is that it? Has she found out somehow and wants to either keep me sharp or keep me too busy to engage in my extracurricular activity? I don’t see how. That seems too fantastic/

Yet its the first thing on my mind as I wake up. I’m used to trusting my instincts but I don’t want to this time. That’s not a part of my life to be shared. It’s the part that keeps me going, keeps me sane, but it’s no where I want other people to be, especially not the ones that mean anything to me. That dark place in my soul has no room for – let’s just say, no one else should ever go there. These journals I keep are enough. No one needs to know the monster I really am.

The Dogman Chronicles, Prologue, Part Two

Runaways are easy to find. In the old days, you had to figure out how they got out of town – if they did – and from that where they went. Now, you just need the parent’s permission and a well paid hacker gets you everything they ever posted online – along with all the accounts their parents don’t know about. More often than not, there’s an address. Kids either want to be found or they are stupid – either works for me.

My well paid hacker is a sixty-five year old retired programmer who does endangered kids work  pro bono – or stupid runaways for a reduced fee. The only development in the files Sonia had sent was that Max had returned the fee – Miss Allen was moving down in the world from ‘stupid’ to ‘endangered’.  I skimmed the updates to find out why.

In the old days, a gumshoe didn’t really need to be told why – he knew. Fact is, I already knew, but thoroughness is a good way to do business. Nothing in the files that would alter my intended approach – I’d had a bad feeling about this one. Sonia says I have bad feelings about all of them – maybe so. Once in a while, it would be nice to be wrong.

I drove to where I planned to leave the car. Getting out, I started in the direction opposite of the intended destination. Streets have eyes, both human and electronic. No sense giving anyone a head’s up.

I bought drinks at a couple bars and schmoozed with girls too young to be doing this but too old to be illegal. I watered a few floors and even a waitress, making sure to have something on my breath and a quick dab in my eyes. No one believes a white eyed drunk, after all.

Took a lot longer than I liked – but no longer than I expected. A bartender scouted me out. A woman more than old enough to know better made the approach. Was I perhaps interested in something say a little younger? Sure, I might be. The kind of conversation that takes up two pages of dialogue in old mystery novels – all that’s changed is the slang and the price structure.

We negotiated. We settled on a price. She pulled out a tablet and we perused the available listings in a private booth. I took my time, wavered a bit between several similar looking babies and finally selected the one I wanted. I was given a hotel key for the agreed ten percent down. I paid and bid the madame a good night.

Walking the block to the hotel, I fiddled in my pockets like a nervous school boy.  I’d seen eyes on me coming out which didn’t matter. I’d expected as much and hadn’t planned on using text anyway. Old school sometimes rules.

I let myself in, went to the minibar and poured a drink. Grabbed a Coke as well – might as well keep up appearances. I made a point to keep pushing back the curtains – a habit new clients often have while they wait. No point, I knew – they wanted the cash and wouldn’t have gone so far if they weren’t intending to complete the transaction. Now, that didn’t rule out larcenous and murderous sidelines but those tend to be self limiting. People who have multiple layers of security tend to be more business like.

Fifteen minutes later, there was a knock. Opening the door revealed a twenty something with greasy hair and dead eyes escorting my purchase. He shoved her into the room without a word and closed the door.  He met my eyes only for a split second – he was carrying and knew I was. No trouble, please – too much hassle. I let him think there wouldn’t be any.

She looked stoned, which she no doubt was. She started shedding clothes but I told her I liked a little more lead up – she picked up her jacket and put it back on. Junior was no doubt listening in and probably bored. I made it worse. Sat her down, gave her the Coke, started rambling about my non-existent wife and kiddies. I swear I heard a disgusted sigh on the other side of the door.

Talkers are a thing – they just want to talk to a girl and will pay for the privilege – then roll in the hay as a bonus. I’d paid for two hours – a pretty good indicator I either wanted an ear or I was going to damage the merchandise. The price was high enough to cover either eventuality.

My pager finally vibrated – I silently wished that had happened before I gave poor little Marilyn the flu twice in one month. The girl just nodded absently as if she heard when she really hadn’t. My hypothetical kids could have all had cancer and been knife jugglers – she wouldn’t have cared. I doubted Junior cared, either, but he might be sharper than he looked.

She was still sipping her Coke. I got up and went to the door. I cracked it to ask about altering the arrangement for another 30 minutes. Junior said he’d check and started texting. He got an answer, told me, I agreed and he put the phone away.

Idiot. I tossed open the door and tossed Junior face first into the wall. The plain clothes cop that had been pretending to searching for his room grabbed the kid and finished the job. Cops were everywhere – Lt. Bartley had come through.

Miss Allen was still sipping her Coke, too drugged out to know where she was or what had just happened. I told her who I was and that she was safe. She just finished the Coke.

Two am, reports finished, interviews done, runaway safely in hospital waiting for Mom and Dad, I crawled back into my flophouse home, retrieved my property and checked out to go to a real hotel. By three, I had scrubbed my skin raw, gotten into PJ’s and was throwing myself at the bed. I didn’t want the particulars of what the kid had been through. I didn’t want to know if she could even remember. I knew enough to know I knew too much.

Then it was finally dark.

The Dogman Chronicles: Prologue

The beer is stale. I haven’t bothered to turn on the lights in the small flophouse room that will be my home tonight. I’m sitting in what once passed as an armchair, drinking the stale beer because it was in the mini fridge, and staring at nothing. Not the neon pitifully flashing in its death throes trying to convince me that the little bar under it will make my evening; not the 40 watt bulb that heralds the bathroom’s location only because I couldn’t find the switch earlier, when I bothered; nothing and everything fill my sight. I know about the spider working its way up the curtain. I know the room is too hot, the beer is stale and exactly what the kids in the adjoining room are doing. I just don’t care.

I give myself a few more minutes of sulking before pulling myself out of the chair and starting for the bath. Lately, I find myself doing that more – thinking about the past while staring at nothing. It’s a bad habit and a bad sign. I have work to do, a paid job, the first in a couple weeks. I freelance when not holding down my own office. I could take more jobs – should take more jobs – but lately, I’m not interested.

My secretary, Sonia, is interested. I have a choice now of actually bringing in revenue or having my backside kicked by a middle aged Russian Jew whose own kids are still in therapy years after fleeing the nest. That’s not fair, I know. I’m taking a colder shower than I’d like and in an already foul mood. Without Sonia, I’d probably sit in some flophouse armchair somewhere until I starved. She’s good for my business, good for me and only one of her thirty kids ever had therapy anyway. I get out of the shower and stop moping about working when I don’t want to.

Dressing, I start to sharpen up. The still mostly full can of beer quenched my thirst but not my senses – that I was doing by myself. I remind myself to grab a six pack of diet soda on the way back. I hate beer, stale or otherwise.

I’m getting back into my own skin in a way. I feel most like myself – the self I want to be anyway – when I’m working. I grab the tablet and run over the files Sonia sent earlier. Secretaries might be a thing of the past, but Sonia is worth her weight in gold in my business.

Tablet locked away in the briefcase, which is now chained to the bed, I slip the phone off the charger and into my jacket pocket. The .45 is in the holster as I swing the jacket over it. Anyone that knows what to look for can see that I’m carrying – which is fine by me. I don’t want surprise – I want intimidation.

Time to go. I step out the door and lock it. I check out the parking lot from the balcony walkway. I look down and see the bags of trash tossed out by the young acrobats in the next room.

For a moment, I’m six again. I’m sitting outside my mother’s rundown apartment on the bags of trash where my ‘uncle’ left me. I’m discarded – just like the trash.

But only for a moment. Sulking over the past is over for tonight. Time to go to work – find Mr. and Mrs. Allen’s runaway little girl and do what’s needed to get the stupid brat home.

Time to go find Miss Camily Aurora Allen. I’m Robert David Hund and I’ve got a job to do.