May was cutting her hair with a hair clipper over her toilet, meanwhile mulling over what to have for lunch. The electric drone buzzed in her skull, tickling her scalp with every pass, locks of black floating to the wooden seat and the dusty tiled floor. Food options she mulled over were orange bell peppers with hummus or a bowl of granola and yogurt. Or she could fast. She hadn’t fasted in a while.
Just as May thought she had a fix on just what she wanted, her kitchen phone rang. She took a moment to dust off her ears and neck before getting up to answer, crossing her tiny living room to the small kitchen bar. She picked up on the sixth ring, only because she preferred to do it that way.
“Hello?” May said as she pressed the speaker to her ear.
The voice that spoke sounded young and male. “Um. Good afternoon. Is this…M. Kliff?” The last words were saturated in dubiety.
May couldn’t help a brief smirk. Her business card tended to leave new clients feeling insecure at its non-specificity. She didn’t do it to be mean, but she couldn’t deny that it amused her. “Yes, that’s me. Who is this?”
The man seemed even more apprehensive than before. “Ah, yes. My name is Joe Lackley from the Normantown Animal Unit? A Mrs. Felton recommended you.”
May perked up, her hand pausing mid-sweep over her hair. “Oh. Pauline? How is she? How do you know her?”
“She’s my cousin’s girlfriend. She’s fine, and she wanted to thank you for the help you provided last summer.”
May grinned. “That’s good to hear!”
Pauline Felton had been a former client receiving disturbing messages on her phone, even when it was turned off and the battery removed. It turned out it was a message from a third kind. Not a guy in a blue police box…but close. May handled it. It was one of her more exciting cases.
Lackley continued. “Actually Mr. Kliff, I was hoping you could help my office with something.”
May didn’t hesitate at Lackley’s title choice. “You wouldn’t be calling otherwise. Do you have permission to hire a freelancer?”
“I already ran this by my superior and I was given permission to let you speak with our office, but you’d be under my personal retainer.”
May nodded. “So my next question is—why is a man identifying himself as animal control calling me?”
There was a pause and she heard a rough sigh over the line. “We’ve got this…this dog that we can’t catch.”
May stood there, blinking at her kitchen fridge where she’d used an old faded magnet alphabet to spell the word ‘bamf,’ and waited for him to continue. He didn’t. She stared at the phone in her hand, then scratched at her neck. The cut hairs coating her were itching and she wanted to take a shower. “Okay… So? What do you want me to do about it?”
His frustration came out as a mixture of impatience and embarrassment. “Well I was hoping you could catch the darn thing!”
May scoffed. “I’m not a dog catcher! That’s supposed to be your job!”
“Yes, normally you’d be correct,” Lackley said defensively. “But you specialize in helping people with strange things!”
“And what’s so strange about a dog giving animal control a hard time?”
“Try the fact that this dog has, over the last five years, managed to escape us over a hundred times?”
May turned to the phone stand, ready to hang up. Her desire for a shower was winning out. “That’s impressive, but hardly worth my time. Goodbye Mr. Lackley.”
“Elephant tranquilizer!” Lackley blurted.
She stopped, her finger on the end button, her face already turned toward her bathroom. “Excuse me?”
The man continued in a rush, stumbling over his words. “The dog! It resisted elephant tranquilizer. Like, the real deal! Didn’t even act fazed!”
May’s brow tightened. “You used elephant tranquilizer on a dog? What kind of operation do you guys run over there!? You could’ve killed it!”
“J-Just hear me out! It was one of our former employees. I guess he got fed up with the dog showing us up all the time. The local TV stations even covered it in their nightly news. The spectacle must’ve got to him and he snapped, I dunno. We let him go and he’s facing charges for animal endangerment. But see, this is why I’m calling you, Mr. Kliff! There’s something strange about that dog, and whatever it is, it’s keeping us from doing our job!”
May sucked her teeth. It was true that she needed another case, but she’d never dealt with animals before. Could she really offer any help?
May leaned on her kitchen fridge exhaling hard through her nose. When she spoke, her voice was flat. “You’ll have to sign a liability agreement to excuse me from any possible damages this case may stir up. I normally charge a non-refundable deposit of five hundred, but given the publicity this case has received and the fact that you’re ten hours away, I’m going to have to ask for triple that. A portion of that covers gas and hotel expenses. I also charge a rate of fifty-five per hour beginning after our first meeting, to be paid upon completion of the case, my refusal to continue, or your dismissal.”
“Wh-What? You didn’t charge Pauline that much! I just told you I’m doing this out of my own pocket!”
May shrugged. “Honestly Mr. Lackley? I still don’t know if I want this case, and with the possible attention and risk I’ll be putting myself in, I can’t spare any discounts for someone I just met over the phone. Pauline used to be my neighbor and is a good friend. Understand the difference?”
Lackley sighed again. “Yes…”
“So you want my help or not?”
May waited impatiently for the man to answer. She was expecting a refusal and wanted to get to the shower before she itched her skin right off.
Lackley’s response took her aback. “D-Do you accept credit cards?”