Saturday, June 4, 2016

Bad Dog, Part Two

We drove up to Edgewater in my Honda. I pointed to the houses on Cleveland Street. “He might live around here. Tell me if you feel anything.”
            Rachel looked out the window, tapping her hand on the armrest. She was holding together pretty well, under the circumstances. She’s not the kind to wail and thrash around when she’s miserable. She either burrows into a box of chocolate for a few days, or she just pulls herself up and gets thing done. It’s all part of why I like her.
            But after a block she shook her head. “I’m not getting anything. We’re going to have to walk.”
            I parked on a side street, and we started walking down the sidewalk.
            “It just sucks, you know?” Rachel swung her arms at her sides, as if looking for something to punch. “She never did anything bad to anyone. Even people who were mean to her. Even her ex-husband. And then some guy with a dog pushes her into a bus?” She sighed. “That’s bullshit.”
            “You said you met her at a support group for psychics?”
            “I was sixteen.” Rachel looked up at the trees. “My parents were divorced, my boyfriend was a jerk, my other boyfriend was a piece of crap, and the school counselor wanted to put me on medication. I was pretty screwed up, and I needed help.”
            She’d never told me much about her childhood. Or her old boyfriends, for that matter. But that wasn’t the issue right now. “So Anya helped you?”
            “Yeah.” Her feet pounded the concrete, faster and faster. “Sorry. I shouldn’t have . . . there are things I just want to forget.”
            “That’s okay.” I ran a hand down her arm. “What kind of powers does she—did she have?”
            Rachel laughed. “She could see your past lives. Anya thought I was a nurse in the Civil War. And a dancer in Paris in the 1920s. Don’t ever ask me about that.” She grimaced. “There was this one girl she said was from another galaxy. I couldn’t really get that. But she never made anyone feel bad. She only wanted to help us figure out who we are.”
            I looked up and down the street. “Are you getting anything?”
            Rachel sighed. “I don’t know. Dog poop, mostly. I think someone’s having an affair in the house across the street. Other than that . . .” She turned around. “Wait a minute. I think we passed it.”
            Rachel stopped in front of a two-story brick house near the corner. “There’s something in there. Angry, and scared. Running around. But I don’t know.”
            “So let’s go find out.” I walked up to the front porch.           
            “This is what you do?” Rachel stood behind me. “Just ring the doorbell and ask, ‘Hi, did your dogs kill my friend?’”
            “It’s a little more subtle than that.” I liked the feeling of showing off in front of Rachel. But the truth was that knocking on doors and asking impertinent questions is one of the things I do best.
            The door behind the screen opened. It was Tobias, or at least he matched all the descriptions: short and a little pudgy, with a thin goatee beard. He blinked at us, probably expecting salespeople or Jehovah’s Witnesses. “Hello?”
            I held up my business card. “I’m looking into an incident involving two dogs, possibly labs, one chocolate colored and one black. Do you own any dogs?”
            As if listening from inside, the big black Labrador—Dragnet—nuzzled around Tobias’s leg and peered up at Rachel and me.
            “What’s this all about?” Tobias clamped a hand around the dog’s collar. “I don’t know about any accident.”
            “A woman was hit by a bus.” I tried to keep it neutral, not an accusation.
            Dragnet growled.
            Tobias took a step back. “I don’t know anything about that. I want you to leave.”
            The other dog appeared. Chocolate colored. Archer. His jaw was quivering.            I nodded. “Thanks for your time.”
            Rachel followed me off the porch. “That’s it?” she demanded on the sidewalk. “We just walk away?”
            “There’ll be an accident report.” I headed for the car. “I’ll call the police and tell them we can identify the man and the dogs Anya described. They’ll have to take it from there.”
            “Those aren’t just dogs.” Rachel’s voice was quiet but fierce.
            “Hellhounds?” I’d tangled with one once. Fortunately, they’re not rabid. Just vicious.
            She shook her head. “I don’t know. Don’t think so. These seemed—intelligent. Like they were studying us.”
            “What about Tobias?”
            Rachel looked at her feet. “He seemed kind of . . . blank. Like he wasn’t really there.”
            I didn’t know what the cops would make of that. But maybe it wouldn’t be a problem for them. The few I know deal with oddballs and nutcases a lot of the time. Still . . . I hated to think I was sending some young patrolman into supernatural danger. “So let me talk to the cops. And maybe I’ll stake this guy out for a while.”
            “You’ll be careful, right?” She slugged my arm, mostly because she doesn’t like to kiss me on the cheek in public.
            “Probably safer than walking with you.” I rubbed my arm.

The cops took my information and promised to check Tobias out. I did some work on other cases, ate a quick sandwich for dinner, and headed back up to the neighborhood again.
            I was equipped with everything necessary to a good stakeout: water, snacks, a freshly-charged cell phone, a slim flashlight, my Taser, and a wide-necked bottle for . . . certain necessities.
            The sun had begun to set when I parked down the block with a good view of Tobias’s house. Then I slouched down, a cap over my face, and waited.
            I got lucky. Fifteen minutes later a Chicago police squad car rolled up in front of the house, and two patrol officers got out. The man and the woman rang the doorbell, and I caught a glimpse of Tobias as he let them inside.
            So I crossed my fingers, hoping for the cops to bring out the two dogs, along with Tobias in handcuffs. But my luck had run out. They emerged after twenty minutes, alone, got back in their squad car, and drove away.
            So the cops weren’t going to deal with Tobias for me. Not yet, anyway. I waited, not sure what I was looking for. Spenser—or maybe it was Magnum, P.I.—used to say that the first rule of private detecting is, “When I doubt, follow someone.”
            Unfortunately, I had no one to follow until an hour later, when the side door opened and both dogs ran down the driveway. Tobias locked his door and leashed the dogs, and they headed down the block—away from me.
            I gave them half a block. I was wearing a cap, and I’d made sure to bring a different jacket with me. Maybe Tobias wouldn’t recognize me from a distance. Of course, the dogs might remember my scent . . . but I decided not to get close enough to let them sniff me. I hoped.
            They roamed around the block, barking and yanking Tobias forward with sharp tugs on their leashes. Then they made a turn around the corner. I followed, hanging back as far as I could without letting them get out of sight under the streetlights. 
            They waited at a corner and then crossed the street, dodging a cab trying to beat the light. I recognized the street signs and realized they were heading for the park where I’d met Samuel Benson and his Corgi.
            A sign on the gate sign advised that the park would be locked at 10:00. I checked my watch. 8:30. Another sign warned, “All Dogs Must Be Leashed.” Tobias ignored it, letting Dragnet and Archer run free across the grass, following with slow, heavy steps.             Streetlights outside illuminated the benches close to the fence. Two old women chatted, eating takeout food. Close to the trees, away from the lights, a young couple sat on one bench, making out. I didn’t see any kids on the slide or the swingset, but I spotted a teenager talking on his cell phone near the jungle gym.
            The dogs ran into a small gathering of trees in the corner of the park. Tobias kept his eyes on them, not bothering to look around—or over his shoulder. I did my best impression of The Shadow, trying to keep out of his sight in the gloom.
            I slipped from tree to tree and finally huddled behind one with a thick, rough trunk. Archer and Dragnet ran in a wide circle near the fence, with Tobias standing motionless at the center. His eyes closed, he stood like the tree I was hiding behind, with his hands in his pockets and his legs stiff.
            Dragnet raced over and sniffed his feet. Tobias seemed to nod, and I saw his lips move, too quiet to hear. Then Dragnet ran behind a bush close to the fence while the Archer sat on his haunches as if guarding his master.
            After about five minutes, Dragnet trotted back, panting, and Archer took off for the bushes. Tobias didn’t move as Dragnet looked up at him. Who was guarding whom? I wasn’t sure Tobias’s eyes were open. Or whether he was still breathing.
            Archer returned in the same amount of time, walking calmly instead of panting. Both dogs nudged Tobias’s shoes, and after a moment he rubbed his face and blinked as if he’d taken a nap standing up. Then he kneeled to leash them again.
            I managed to blend in next to the tree, staying still enough that they didn’t notice me as they walked slowly toward the park entrance. The dogs were quiet now, close to Tobias’s heels. He staggered once, losing his balance for a moment, then rubbed his head and trudged forward as if suddenly exhausted.
            The young couple making out had left. The two older ladies were still talking. As Tobias neared the entrance, an African-American man walking a dog of his own—a Jack Russell terrier, maybe—came through the gate.
            The two Labradors shot forward, growling. The man pulled his dog back protectively. “Whoa, whoa! It’s okay.” He petted the terrier’s head. “It’s okay, Daisy. It’s me, Jimmy, all right? They’re not going to—”
            Then Archer launched himself at Jimmy, pulling free of his leash. The terrier yelped in terror as Jimmy fell over, shouting, trying to keep Daisy in one arm while he pushed at Archer’s head.
            Tobias grabbed for the leash, but Archer was too strong and fast for him. He jumped on top of Jimmy and the terrier, barking furiously. Dragnet joined in, pinning Daisy down as his owner rolled over and scrambled to his knees.
            “What the hell, man?” Jimmy rolled over, shoving both dogs as hard as he could. “Control your dogs, you asshole! Get off!”
            He managed to scoop up Daisy in his arms, stand up, and back away, breathing hard. “What is wrong with you?”
            All the dogs were barking now. The Labs circled Jimmy, and Daisy squirmed in his arms. The two older women watched from their bench. One had a cell phone out.
            Tobias rocked on the grass, dazed by the sudden violence. “I don’t—I can’t—I’m—”
            Jimmy had his own phone out now. “I’m calling the police. What’s your name?”
            Tobias stared at him as if he couldn’t remember. Then, with a sudden, desperate lunge, he pushed the guy aside and ran through the gate to the street.
            “Hey, wait!” Jimmy twisted around. “What are you—” Then he saw me. “Who are you? Do you know that guy?”           
            “His name’s Tobias. He lives over on Cleveland.” Then I took off after him, dodging the two dogs. “Tobias! Wait!”
            He didn’t wait. He ran like a hellhound was after him, but the dogs stayed with Jimmy and Daisy, darting in and back, snapping at them and growling.
            I hoped they wouldn’t come chasing after us right away. Tobias raced down the street, but I could hear him panting and groaning from half a block behind. He barely made it to the corner before he stopped and doubled over, grabbing a light pole to keep himself upright, looking close to vomiting on the sidewalk.
            “Tobias?” I was out of breath myself. “What’s the deal?”
            He looked up at me, blinked, and recognized my face. “Help me,” he begged. “Keep them away from me!”
            “What are they?”
            “They’re possessed!” His eyes were wide and bloodshot. “They’re from hell. Or someplace. I can’t control them. They’re controlling me!”
            I heard the first police siren. “My car’s on the other block. Come on.”

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