Neither of us were in any physical shape to sprint. We walked as fast as we could without attracting attention. Jimmy didn’t follow us, and we didn’t see or hear the dogs.
I unlocked my Honda, and Tobias fell in and slumped over. I slipped my key in the ignition but didn’t start up. “So tell me what’s going on,” I ordered.
He rubbed his face, groaning. “They—they belonged to my neighbor. But he died, and they just came over to my house. Eight months ago. At first I thought they were regular dogs, but after a few days, they started—I don’t know. It was like they were inside my head. I stopped going to work. I lost my job. I took them on walks—always to that park. Every couple of days they have to go to that same spot, and I don’t know what happens for a few minutes. Then they’re back. And we go home.”
“Why did they push Anya Fletcher into that bus?”
“W-who?” He looked at me. “Oh. That woman. They didn’t like her perfume. I could feel it. They were afraid of it.”
I tried not to let my voice shake with anger. “They killed her because they didn’t like her perfume?”
“They were afraid of it,” he repeated. “Like it was dangerous to them. I don’t know.”
“What about that dog back in the park?”
“It’s their park. They were protecting it. They don’t like any other dogs there. I think they don’t want any dogs near that—that spot.”
I sat back, trying to think it through. Dogs—possessed. Able to control a human. With a special place they had to visit every few days. “Where are they really from?”
Tobias shook his head. “I don’t know. Someplace else. Hell, like I said.” He hugged his arms around his stomach. “They don’t want to go back.”
Their special spot probably kept them here, in our world. So maybe I could blow it up. Okay, not my best idea, but—
Then I had a scary thought. “Are there more of them?”
“Not around here.” He gulped. “I can—hear them talking sometimes. To others. I can’t understand what they’re saying, but . . . yeah, I think there are others.”
Great. But I couldn’t deal with every possessed dog in the world by myself. Right now I was only worried about Dragnet and Archer.
I took out my phone. Rachel answered just before it went to voice mail. “I’m in the middle of The Amazing Race, this better be important.”
“You remember that perfume Anya was wearing? The citrus scent?”
“Yeah, she got it special from some website.”
Damn. “I need more of it. Lots of it.”
“They’re possessed. And they’re afraid of the smell. Do you have any of it?”
“I’ve got a key to her place.” I could hear her moving around. “Where are you?”
“Up near Tobias’s place.” I gave her the cross streets.
“Is it safe there?” I heard her lock click. She was out in the hall. Moving fast. “Maybe you should just meet me back here.”
Safe wasn’t a word I’d use. But I needed to find those dogs fast, and if I took too long, they might run away and imprint themselves on another human. “We have to be able to find the dogs. Just meet me.”
“Find them?” Tobias sat up, trembling. “No! We have to get out of here!”
I hung up and twisted in my seat to stare at Tobias, just as frightened but a lot more angry. “I’m sorry, but you’re in this already. The cops know all about you. Stay with me, and I’ll protect you from Dragnet and Archer.” Or at least try. “Run away, and there’s nothing I can do.”
“The cops! You’re the one who called the goddamn cops on me!” He leaned his head back, eyes closed. “Oh my God, this is a nightmare.”
I sighed. “Yeah. But those dogs killed a friend of mine. They’re dangerous. If we’re lucky, the police will just shoot them.”
“No!” Tobias flinched. “They can’t do that. It’s not their fault. I mean—it’s not my fault either, it just—I don’t know what to do.”
And I didn’t know what to tell him. A defense of, “I was being controlled by dogs possessed by demons from another dimension” might work for an insanity plea, but either way Tobias was screwed. “Sorry.”
But Tobias surprised me with a slow nod. Reluctant, but still a nod. “I guess you’re right. It just . . .” He looked out the window and didn’t finish.
I know a few good lawyers. Maybe he’d let me recommend one. He’d probably need it.
Rachel showed up in her Prius an hour later. She parked in front of my car and walked back, carrying a plastic shopping bag. “You didn’t tell me he was here.” She climbed into the back of my car, looking Tobias over.
“The dogs were controlling him, not the other way around. He’s helping us.” For now, at least.
Her eyes narrowed as she read Tobias. After a moment she nodded. “Okay. I guess. Anya was my friend.”
“I’m sorry.” He looked at the dashboard, afraid to meet her eyes. “It was Dragnet. I couldn’t stop him.”
Her lip curled in disgust. “Whatever.” She handed the bag over the seat.
Inside I found two small bottles of perfume and a big jug of the stuff, three-quarters full. I uncapped it for a whiff. “Wow.” It smelled like an explosion of tangerines.
“It’s supposed to be diluted,” Rachel told me. “But the stronger the better, right?”
I started the car. “Let’s go dog hunting.”
I drove with caution. The police would never believe a story about possessed killer canines. But the Chicago PD apparently had more urgent priorities than two bad dogs. I drove around the block where Tobias lived without spotting a stakeout, and Rachel decided she couldn’t sense the dogs inside while we glided past.
So we headed back to the park, again checking out the street from a block away before making our approach. No police cars, but the gate was locked. The fence was 12 feet high, a long row of metal bars too slick to climb and too tight to squeeze through.
“They’re in there,” Rachel breathed.
Tobias nodded, sweat on his temples. “Yeah.”
“You know any spells for opening locks?” I looked up for surveillance cameras.
She snorted. “I’m a psychic, not a witch. I thought you PIs knew all about picking locks.”
“I must have skipped that day in private eye school.” I drove around the block, hoping for some other way in.
Behind a Mexican restaurant on the next block an alley ran past the rear of the park. I stopped the car and rolled down the window.
We heard the dogs barking.
Tobias stiffened. “It’s them.”
“Come on.” I managed to keep my hand from shaking as I opened the door. My legs didn’t feel very steady, though.
Rachel got out. Tobias hesitated, but he forced himself up before I had to tell him again. He wiped sweat from his upper lip and stood behind me, ready to run.
The bars of the fence back here looked even higher, planted in solid concrete. Unless Dragnet and Archer could fly over them, or jump really high, we were safe from them.
“So what are we going to do?” Rachel stood next to me.
I held the bag closed, hoping they wouldn’t smell the perfume too soon. I didn’t really have a plan. I checked the Taser in my jacket. “Splash them with the perfume. Or shoot them with my Taser. Hope that shocks the demon or whatever it is out of them.”
She grimaced. “No. We should talk to them before we go in with phasers set on kill.”
Dragnet and Archer had killed her friend. But if Rachel wanted to talk to them, I couldn’t really argue with her. Especially since I didn’t have a better idea. But . . . “So how do we do that? I’m not fluent in bark-bark, you know. Or bow-wow-wow.”
“Not you, dummy.” Rachel turned on Tobias. “You! Don’t they communicate with you? Somehow?”
“It’s not exactly, uh, talking, you know?” He shuffled his feet. “I might be able to get through to them. I don’t know.”
“They know they’re in trouble now.” Rachel shivered, looking through the fence. “They’re locked up, they don’t have anywhere to go, and you’re the only human they really know. The only one they can trust. I can feel it. But they know you’re here.” She punched his arm. “Talk to them.”
Tobias looked at me. “Should I . . . is she right?”
I nodded. “She is kind of psychic. I’d listen to her.”
“But . . .” He stared at the fence and swallowed. “Okay.”
Then he took one tentative step forward, cleared his throat, and whispered, “Dragnet? Archer? It’s me.”
The barking stopped.
My mouth was dry. I wished for a bottle of water from the car. I felt Rachel’s breathing beside me.
We heard paws padding across the ground. Then Dragnet was at the fence, jumping at us. Archer paced behind him, prowling back and forth.
Tobias looked at me. I jerked my head toward the fence. He sighed, then got down on one knee and stuck his hand through the bars. “Dragnet? Dragnet, it’s me.”
The black Lab lowered his head, sniffing his hand. Archer growled softly behind him.
Tobias’s head shuddered. His lips moved silently, and he slipped to both knees on the grass in front of the fence. Then he opened his eyes and looked up at me.
“Go away.” The voice was a growl in Tobias’s mouth. “Leave us alone.”
It worked. Rachel gave me an “I told you so” smirk.
“Why are you here?” I asked. “In our world? What do you want?”
“We live,” Dragnet—or Archer?—grunted. “In the other place, you hunt us. Kill us. Here . . . we live.”
“What’s so special about this park?” Rachel asked.
The voice changed. Still guttural and harsh, but pitched higher. “The hole is here.”
“Back to your world?” An inter-dimensional portal . . . in a city park.
“We go back. Three suns, four, or we . . . change. Like the ones here. So we go back.”
Kept away from the park, they’d turn into . . . just dogs. “Are there others of you here on our world?”
“All over. Everywhere.”
My skin felt cold. Invasion of the demon hounds from another reality? It sounded like Mystery Science Theater.
“But you don’t have to kill people!” Rachel knelt next to Tobias, but she looked through the fence at Dragnet’s glowing golden eyes. “You can live your life and let us live ours!”
“We defend ourselves.” The words seemed to come straight from Dragnet’s jaws. “We do.”
“The woman you pushed into the bus wasn’t a threat.” I tried to keep my voice steady. “She didn’t know you.”
“Her air smelled like the place we come from. It makes us afraid. And angry.” Dragnet pawed the ground menacingly.
Rachel shook her head. “There’s got to be a way—”
Suddenly Tobias jumped to his feet with a shout. Rachel almost fell over, but she pushed herself up as I was turning around.
Ten dogs—maybe more—surrounded us in the alley. A German shepherd as big as a truck, two cute beagles, a bulldog, four or five small pit bulls, and a fluffy white poodle. And some others I couldn’t identify in the dark. Plus, I’m not a dog expert.
Some were silent. Others growled quiet threats, pacing back and forth.
“He called them.” Tobias backed away from the fence. “I didn’t know they could do that, but . . .”
“Okay, maybe talking to them wasn’t the best idea.” Rachel moved next to me. “I’ve got pepper spray.” She reached for a pocket.
“I’ve got something else.” I opened the shopping bag.
I didn’t know if the perfume would send the dogs running—or just make them angry. But I couldn’t Taser all of them. I tossed one of the small bottles to Rachel, and unscrewed the cap on the jug.
A pit bull started whimpering, and backed away. I splashed some of the perfume onto the street, and others dogs began growling and arching their spines while some of them just circled hesitantly, as if trying to overcome their fear.
Dragnet barked once. A command? The German shepherd darted forward. I threw some perfume at his face, and he jumped back as if I’d hit him with the Taser. Some of the other dogs circled him protectively. The others held their ground.
“Tobias!” I shouted. “Can you talk to Dragnet? Tell him to send them away!”
“I can’t—I can’t . . .” Tobias lost his nerve. He turned and ran, racing down the alley toward the street.
The shepherd jumped up and launched himself after him. I tried to squirt more of the citrus perfume on him, but he was too fast. So I whirled around and spilled half the bottle in a line between Rachel and the rest of the canines, hoping that would hold them back. I shoved the jug into her hands, grabbed my Taser, and took off after Tobias and the shepherd.
I heard Archer bark into the sky.
Tobias ran desperately, but he was in lousy shape, and when he tripped on a dent in the pavement the big German shepherd was right on top of him.
The shepherd’s jaws stretched wide. I’d never seen a dog actually try to kill something. His yellow teeth looked like a vampire’s fangs.
The dog sank his jaws into Tobias’s shoulder. Tobias punched the dog in the head, shrieking in panic, pounding his fists against its snout and its neck. Blood spurted down his arm.
I aimed the Taser and fired, hitting the German shepherd right in the ass. He jumped up with a yelp, stumbling around as he tried to make his rear legs work. Tobias’s blood dripped from his teeth.
I hit the trigger again. The dart hit the shepherd’s chest. He skittered back, howling in pain, and then he collapsed.
Tobias was on the ground, groaning. Blood covered his chest. And it kept coming. Apparently the shephard had ripped an artery. I pressed my hands against the wound. “Come on, Tobias, stay with us,” I panted. “You did everything we asked for. You tried to help the dogs, too. Hang on, goddamn it! Rachel!”
“I’m sorry.” Tobias gasped. “I should have . . . I’m sorry about your friend. Oh, god, Dragnet . . . Archer . . .”
“I’m here.” Rachel was right behind me. “Those other dogs are—oh, hell.” She yanked out her cell phone. “You’ll make it, guy. Just hang in there. Hello? Yeah, emergency, we need an ambulance and some EMTs and . . .”
Inside the park, Dragnet and Archer howled.
So I told the cops that I’d been working a case.
My girlfriend’s friend had been pushed into a bus by some dogs, and she died. The dogs belonged to a guy named Tobias. I’d been following him. When I confronted him in the park, he ran.
I’d tracked him to this back alley. His two dogs were trapped inside the park after closing. I was arguing with him, and out of nowhere a big German shepherd attacked us. I’d shot it with my Taser, twice. It lay on the street, cold and silent. Dead.
Rachel backed me up, mostly because I’d had a few minutes to get our stories right before the blue lights started flashing at the end of the alley. And because we’d managed to stash the jug of perfume in my trunk, and none of the cops picked up the scent through the smell of grease and hot spices from the Mexican restaurant on the other side of the alley.
But Tobias was dead. He’d bled out all despite our best efforts to save him.
The detective was a young African-American man named Hawkins. He confiscated my Taser and warned me not to buy another one until the case went through the courts.
A female officer came around the corner, one hand holding two tight leashes. Archer cowered, whimpering like a puppy. Dragnet’s head darted back and forth, as if looking for someone.
They looked lost. And frightened.
“Are those the dogs?” Hawkins looked skeptical. “They don’t look so dangerous.”
Ask Anya, I thought.
But Rachel dropped to her knees. “Hello, Dragnet.” She hugged the black dog, and then turned to pet the chocolate lab. “Yes, Archer, you’re a good dog too. You’re okay now.”
Archer licked her face. Dragnet held back, panting like any other dog.
Rachel stood up. “Find them good homes. Better people.”
Detective Hawkins smiled. “That’s Animal Control, ma’am. I’m sure they’ll do their best.”
I looked at my car. “Are we free to go, officer?”
Hawkins shrugged, as if he didn’t care what I did. “Sure. We’ll be in touch with any other questions.” He had my card.
I unlocked the door. “Thank you.”
Rachel slumped in the seat next to me as Hawkins walked away.
“Are you okay?” I started the car.
“Didn’t you hear them when he died?” She grabbed a bottle of water. “Whatever they did to him, they had a connection with him. And they lost it when he died. They’re just dogs. They don’t understand what happened. They want their master. They just want to run around and play.”
“You mean . . .” I remembered Anya’s words: It’s a different sky, and there are dogs all around. Big ones, little ones. and they’re all barking and running around this big stone pillar. It’s huge, and it blocks out the sun . . . “They went back to their own world?”
“I don’t know.” She yanked her seatbelt. “Anya wouldn’t have wanted them to killed over there. But she wouldn’t have wanted them put in cages here. She’s—she wasn’t like that.”
I wished I’d known her better. “I’m sorry.”
“What’s going to happen to them?” Rachel looked out the window. “All those other dogs? There and here?”
I didn’t want to think about hundreds—or thousands—of dogs around the world, all of them controlling humans, and every single one desperate to stay here or face being killed in their own world.
“We could adopt a puppy.” I turned on my headlights and glanced at the fence surrounding the park.
She slugged my arm. “I kill my goldfish. Let’s just make a donation somewhere.”
“Right.” I edged around the police car and the Animal Control truck at the end of the alley and turned into the street.
At the corner a skinny greyhound darted across the road. Rachel grabbed my arm. I hit my brakes.
The greyhound stopped in the crosswalk and looked up at the car. He had sharp yellow teeth and his eyes were bright in my lights.
We looked at each other. Rachel held her breath.
Then the greyhound shook himself and trotted over to the next corner. In a moment he was gone.
How many more? I didn’t want to know.
# # #
(AUTHOR'S NOTE: Astute readers will remember that Rachel actually did unlock a door in my first story, "Baby don't cry." Oops. I've sort of retconned her character to be just vaguely psychic, without any magical powers, mostly because I don't want to make things too easy for Tom. Like he always says, it's complicated.)