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Uncle Harry-Fiction by Michael S. Stewart
Run, Robby, Run, Part 3-Fiction by Kenneth James Crist
Hunting Ghosts-Fiction by J.M.Taylor
SkitzoFreniC-Fiction by Michael Bauman
Candy Man-Fiction by Frank Quinn
A Dog of War-Fiction by Robb T. White
The Retiree's Epiphany-Fiction by Roy Dorman
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Dishes, Dishes, Dishes-Flash Fiction by Cindy Rosmus
Angels in Vegas-Flash Fiction by Tom Darin Liskey
An Alto for the Choir-Flash Fiction by Hillary Lyon
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Phantom Voices Floating...Poem by Dr. Mel Waldman
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Don't Do It, It Ain't Worth It-Poem by Ian Mullins
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The Gazing Ball
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No Place Like Home
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Dark Tales from Gent's Pens

robbyptiiib.jpg
Art by Kevin Duncan 2017

Run, Robby, Run

by Kenneth James Crist

 

Part 3

 

I had passed a sort-of pleasant two weeks. Fuzzy had his own yard and I had Alice Ann, my new, government-provided, live-in girlfriend. It was the easiest way for them to keep track of me and I didn’t mind at all. Some of Alice’s kinky tricks made the initial episode in the Texas motel with the beer bottle seem pretty tame.

Eventually, they came to the conclusion that they couldn’t duplicate whatever it was that made me able to converse with animals and they gave up. It wasn’t long, though, before they began sending me out on assignments. They gave me credentials and everything. I had a badge and an ID card that said “Provisional Special Agent” on it.

The first case they sent me on was a no-brainer. Fuzzy and I were put on a plane and sent to Casper, Wyoming. A rather prominent business guy had been killed in a home invasion. His dog was there and saw it all, or at least they figured it had. Alice and Fuzzy and I were assigned the task of questioning the dog, an Irish Setter named Jimbo.

It was ninety miles from the small airport to the ranch the businessman owned, and we took off in two cars right from the airport. I was ready for some lunch and Fuzzy said he was going to die any minute if he didn’t get a cheeseburger, but it wasn’t happening.

The ranch was an actual working ranch, with cowhands and cattle, horses and manure, corrals and fences scattered around. The house was pretty elaborate, but then, the man didn’t have to subsist on what the ranch made. He had his hands in real estate, banking, stocks and bonds and he even owned a chunk of the airport we flew into.

As we arrived, we saw the Irish Setter. He got up off the porch and came out to meet the cars. He didn’t bark, which I took to be unusual and it seemed his spirit was broken. He and Fuzzy walked around each other, chuffing and smelling and doing what dogs do, but still, there was no barking. Tail wagging was at a minimum.

We were introduced to the lady of the house. She was maybe fifty, but I was immediately taken with her. Yes, her hair was graying; yes, there were character lines in her face. But her posture and figure were still those of a much younger woman. Her eyes were somber, but I could easily imagine a sparkle there. Her husband had been a lucky man.

She wouldn’t talk until we had been fed. She put on an impressive lunch and she made sure Fuzzy was fed, too. The local sheriff was in attendance, as it was actually his case. We avoided discussing any of the circumstances, because if I knew anything about it, it might tend to shade whatever I learned from the dog.

After lunch, I asked everyone else to stay in the house and Fuzzy and I went outside and sat on the porch with Jimbo. I parked in an old, creaky glider that needed to be sandblasted and repainted. Fuzzy sat beside the glider on the floor. Jimbo was curled up next to the steps, watching us.

“Jimbo. You like that name?”

His head came up and his eyes were filled with intelligence and curiosity. “Yeah, I like it fine. It’s my name. Always been my name.”

“I know. Are you sad?”

“You know I am. The Man is gone. They say he’s gone forever. Dead. Like cows sometimes. They die and then in the spring, we find them and they stink and the men bury them in the ground.”

“Can you stand to tell me what happened out here?”

“Some men came and kicked in the door. Man was here and I was here. I barked and warned the Man and he was getting a gun and they shot him. I ran and hid. I was scared. I should have been brave, but they had guns. I hate guns.”

Fuzzy said, “You’re not alone there, friend.”

Jimbo asked, “What’s your name?”

“Fuzzy. I made up my own name.” Jimbo got up and came over and sat in front of me. I reached down and scratched his ears and said, “Who were the bad men? Did you know them?”

“One I knew and the other I didn’t. One was the Man’s friend who comes here all the time for meetings. His name is Jack. The other man was real tall and he smelled like beer and Jack called him Junior.”

“Do you know Jack’s last name?”

“Last name? No, I just know Jack.”

“And he’s been here a lot? Many times?”

“Ever since I was little. I don’t know why they wanted to hurt Man.”

“What was your man’s name?”

Jimbo lay back down with a sigh and placed his head on his paws. He said, “Blake. He won’t be back.”

“Jimbo, I know it hurts, but it will get better. Thanks for talking with me.”

“I talk all the time, but nobody understands. You’re the first.”

“I know, Jimbo.”

 

When I went back in, the sheriff had his glasses on his nose and his notebook in hand. I sat down and the lady poured me another cup of coffee.

“What did you learn? Anything helpful?” The sheriff was looking at me over his glasses.

“First, understand that I haven’t been told anything about this case or about the victim, okay?”

“Okay. . . .”

“Jimbo tells me his master’s name was Blake and that two men came and kicked in the door. One was a man who has come here for years, named Jack.” Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the lady of the house put her hand to her mouth and then to her breast, as if she might faint. “The man with him, Jack called Junior. Jimbo is sorry he wasn’t more brave. But it only would have gotten him killed. As time goes by, he’ll get better, but you need to understand just how much he really understands. Let him know what a good dog he is and what a good witness. And when you make your arrest, you need to let him know. Closure would be a good thing.”

The sheriff stared at me and then said, “Well, I can’t prosecute on the word of a guy who says he can talk to dogs. . . .”

“We understand that, Sheriff,” Alice said, “but what this actually does is allow you to concentrate your efforts on two suspects and not have to spend a lot of time spinning your wheels looking at everyone else. And you can be assured that Robby here can actually do what he says he can. It’s been proven over and over under laboratory conditions and if we didn’t have absolute faith in his abilities, we wouldn’t have burned the jet fuel to come out here and help.”

“Okay, well then, I’d best get to work. Thank you for your help.” He touched his Stetson in cowboy fashion and stalked out to his car.

On the way out, I stopped once more and petted and talked to Jimbo. “Not sure the sheriff believed me, but he’s gonna work on it. He’ll catch them soon, and you helped a lot. Glad we got to meet you, buddy.”

He watched us all the way to the car and clear out of sight. Alice said, “While you were talking with Jimbo, I got another call. How are you with horses?”

“Okay, I guess. They’re almost as intelligent as dogs and in their own world, they definitely rule. Where we goin?”

“Shamrock, Texas. It’s out by the state line with New Mexico. Got an arson case out there where somebody burned down a barn with the horses inside. One managed somehow to get out. The rest perished in the fire. We figure the horse probably knows who set the fire.”

 

Shamrock, Texas is about as far west as one can get in the Lone Star state. Again, we met with a county sheriff and also a Texas Ranger. The Ranger was a tall guy, with a dark complexion, and high, prominent cheekbones showing Indian blood. In contrast, his name was O’Reilly. Must have been an Irishman in the woodpile. The sheriff was a good ol’ boy named Benson, who probably got elected because he’d been there all his life and knew everybody and their kids and dogs. He didn’t seem to know a lot about police work.

We used a loaner car, an older generic blue Crown Vic, from the nearest FBI office and followed the Ranger’s big silver Dodge pickup out to a holding facility for abandoned and abused animals about forty miles south. The horse was still under veterinary care, due to some burns he’d received in the stable fire. The sheriff rode with us and filled me in on the case.

“Horse is a four-year-old gelding named Pancho. He’s all black, with three white socks and, of course, burn marks now. Ever since the fire, he won’t go inside a building. He’s pretty hard to approach, and he’s bitten and tried to kick a couple people. You know much about horses?”

“Not a hell of a lot,” I said, “but I can probably talk to him. We’ll just hafta see when we get there.”

“Well, ya wanna be careful. Stay away from his back end and watch his head. They have to rope him and snub him down to give him antibiotics and stuff. He’s not trustin’ anybody right now.”

We turned in the drive at the facility and were met with barking from about thirty dogs, all raising hell in their kennels. We let the dust settle before we opened our doors and then got out into the dry heat. O’Reilly settled his Stetson on his head and pointed across to a corral adjacent to a large metal barn.

I looked across and saw Pancho. Saw the piebald patches where his hair was burned away. Saw some areas that were still carrying scabs and were shiny with ointment. The horse’s head was down and he looked defeated. I turned to Fuzzy and said, “You might wanna hang back some. Don’t wanna upset him. . . .”

Fuzzy flopped his tongue out and said, “Nope. He wants to see me. He needs ta talk. Maybe you better hang back.” Fuzzy headed for the corral, his tail wagging madly, like he’d just found his long-lost brother.

“Better call him back,” O’Reilly said, “he’s apt ta get killed in there.” Fuzzy was just slipping under the lowest bar of the corral.

Pancho stepped forward and Fuzzy reached up. They smelled each other and Pancho raised his head and blew, then whinnied and dropped his head back down to nuzzle the dog. Together, they set off for a walk around the corral. I knew they were conversing, but I wasn’t catching much of it.

O’Reilly cocked his Stetson back on his head and I heard him mutter, “. . . be god-damned. . . .”

I watched Fuzzy work some dog-on-horse magic for about thirty minutes, before I finally approached Pancho. It even got down to them playing tag and working up a sweat, dodging back and forth. Finally, Fuzzy remembered what we were there for and he came over to me and Pancho came with him. The big horse shoved his head over the fence and smelled me and I could almost see the wheels turning as he smelled Fuzzy on me and associated the two of us together.

“Hey, big guy,” I said, stroking his cheek, “you doin’ okay now?”

“Better,” he rumbled in his throat, nodding his head, then. “Does the dog have a name?”

“His name is Fuzzy. He likes you.”

“I like him, too. He’s good dog. Good friend, too.”

“You have any other friends, Pancho?”

“Not any more. I had a person friend. Julie. But not now. She’s gone away.”

“What happened to Julie?”

“She made fire. Burn, burn, burn. Burned the barn. Burned the horses. All but me.”

“I know, Buddy. It’s very sad. You see her make the fire?”

“I did,” he said, the head nodding again. “She put some tractor stuff on the straw and lit it.”

“Tractor stuff. Tractor gas? Stinky stuff they put in tractors?”

“Yeah.” Nodding again. “Bad stuff.”

“How did you get out?”

“I kicked my stall. The door busted open. I ran out and she closed the door.”

“Who was she? She the owner?”

“No, Pete was the owner. She worked there. Clean and brush. Take care of horses.”

“Stable girl?”

“She was there a long time. She went crazy. Bad in the head.”

“I’ll be back in a minute, Pancho. You keep Fuzzy company, okay?”

“I like Fuzzy. Good friend.”

I walked back over to Benson and O’Reilly. “Pancho says a stable girl named Julie did it. Used tractor gas and put it on the straw and lit it off.”

O’Reilly took the Stetson off and wiped the band with a handkerchief, then set it back on his head again and said, “She was top of the suspect list. And right now, we can’t touch her. She cut her wrists later that night and now she’s up in the state mental hospital. We might never be able to prosecute her.”

“Better collect yer dog, then, and we’ll get goin’,” Benson said.

“Well, first of all, he’s not my dog. . . .”

 

Much later, we flew to San Antonio and collected my truck. Alice, Fuzzy and I were allowed to drive to Washington D.C. with only one car following with two other agents. We enjoyed the trip and managed to stretch it out to three days and two nights, which we enjoyed immensely.

We had plenty of time to talk along the way and I was settling into my new life-with-government as well as could be expected. Somewhere in Kentucky, I asked, “How long do you think Uncle Sam is gonna require my services?”

Alice looked thoughtful and didn’t answer right away. Finally, she said, “I guess you still haven’t figured this all out, huh, Robby?”

“Figured what out, Babe?”

“This is a life-time deal, here. They’re never gonna just turn you loose. They can’t.”

There was a rest area a mile ahead and I didn’t say anything until I had the truck stopped and Fuzzy was out doing his business. Then I said, “The fuck you mean, lifetime? They can’t keep me for the rest of my life if I don’t wanna play anymore.”

“You have no idea, Robby. Here’s the thing. At any given time there are spies from about twenty-four countries that we know of under surveillance by our agency. We use deep-cover people who will do absolutely anything necessary to protect this country and its people. I know of one agent who is legally married to the subject she had been assigned to cover. And if the shit hits the fan, she will kill him and disappear without a thought. You’re not dealing with pussies here, Robby.”

“So my rights have no bearing. . . .”

“Rights? Don’t make me laugh. You will always be under surveillance and protection, and your income and safety and comfort are guaranteed for the rest of your life.”

“Just because I can talk to animals. . . .”

“No, just because you are the only person alive that we know of who can do what you do. Think about it, Robby. Take a city like New York City. Eight million people and at least that many rats. Rats go everywhere. They have stealth and they are hardy and disease-resistant. They come out mostly at night and they see and hear just about everything. That’s over 8 million operatives that you, and only you, can debrief. If an enemy of our country knew about you, one of two things would happen. They’d capture you for themselves, or if they couldn’t carry that off, they’d kill you. Period. End of story. You cannot afford to go unprotected. Ever. You are too great an asset.”

When we arrived at Fort Meade, we were told that two arrests had been made in Wyoming and the sheriff had obtained a confession from Junior. He would plead to accessory to murder in exchange for a lighter sentence. Jack was still holding out and would most likely be charged with first-degree. He was looking at life in prison.

In Shamrock, Texas, the stable girl, Julie, had been through a sanity hearing and had been temporarily adjudicated as mentally incompetent to stand trial. . . .

*     *     *

Three nights later, Alice left Fuzzy and me alone in our house. She had paperwork to catch up on, back at her office. Outside, an unmarked car with two agents kept watch. Fuzzy was parked, lying down in the center of what had become his bed. I stepped over and flopped down beside him and said, “You and I need to talk, buddy.”

He was on his side and he didn’t even bother to move. “Yeah? What about?”

“I need to know what you think about our new lifestyle. Are you happy? Do you think you can get along with all this traveling and living in a house and being taken care of by these secret agent-types?”

“Honestly?”

“Yeah. Honestly.”

“I’ve been thinking about running away again.”

“You’d just take off and leave me like that?”

“I’ve done it before, when everything got to be too much. I could do it again. I liked it a lot better when there was just the two of us and every day was a challenge to survive and we weren’t so damn . . . comfortable. Does that make any sense?”

“Okay, you’re gonna hafta excuse me, but I’m gonna hug you, whether you like it or not.”

Fuzzy didn’t care to be hugged, except by little kids, but he put up with it. Even licked my ear a little.

After that, we began to make our plans. It would take time to disentangle ourselves from the government. We would have to convince them, very gradually, that I had lost my ability to talk with animals. Fuzzy would have to help, by becoming aloof and even disobedient and uncommunicative.

The only way we would ever get away was for me to become worthless to the federal government. We couldn’t start too soon, as that would be obvious to Alice, after just having talked with her about my role in their plans and never being able to leave.

 

Next: Part four—Robby’s escape…



Kenneth James Crist is a tired, broken-down old motorcycle cop from Wichita Kansas. He began writing a novel in 1994 as keyboard practice and has since written four more novels, several novellas and a butt-load of short stories. His publications have been seen in Bewildering Stories, Tales of the Talisman, A Twist of Noir, A Shot of Ink, Eaten Alive, The New Flesh, The Sink, The Edge, Skin and Bones, Twisted Sister and Kudzu Monthly, to name a few. Recently, he had three stories accepted by John Thompson at Hardboiled, for two anthologies that were published in April of 2014, The Undead War and Hardboiled, both available from Dead Guns Press.

He also has four books up in Kindle format, for sale on Amazon.com: Dreaming of Mirages, The Gazing Ball, Joshua, and Groaning for Burial, his latest zombie fiction. One of his novellas, Surviving Montezuma, is being serialized by Anne Stickel at Black Petals.

Having turned 73 last June, he still rides his big Harley every day that weather permits and is now completely retired. He volunteers as a blood services driver for the American Red Cross and he is also a member of the American Legion Riders and the Kansas Patriot Guard.







In Association with Black Petals & Fossil Publications 2017