May’s eyes fluttered as she took in the sight of the black dog standing behind Max. It stood rigidly in the middle of the street, its ears and tail perked up as it stared intensely at them. The animal looked to be a cross between a Rottweiler and a Mastiff, and while it was by no means the largest dog May had ever seen, it was certainly large enough to make anyone think twice about messing with it. A thick rope of drool quivered from its lips.
Max stood ramrod straight, his eyes locked onto May’s face. “May,” he said slowly. “What’s it doing?”
“It’s just staring at us,” she whispered back. She frowned. “For a dog on the street it seems pretty healthy… Not even that mangy!”
“Great for it, then.”
“This dog has been on the streets for years. Is someone secretly caring for it?”
“Maybe what we should be thinking about is scaring this dog off!”
“Are you crazy? I’m supposed to be catching this dog, Max, not chasing him away!”
“May, I swear to God if this thing bites me–”
No sooner had he finished saying this that the dog approached Max from behind, effectively slipping out of May’s sight line. Judging from the small yelp her brother let out, the dog was getting a bit too close for comfort.
“Max?” she prompted nervously.
“He’s sniffing me,” the man rasped through tight lips. Max turned his head just enough to allow for him to look down with his eyes. His brow tightened further, and May could see the sweat roll down the inside of his nose.
“He’s…really looking at me, May,” he murmured shakily.
May squinted her eyes in confusion. “How do you mean?”
Her brother clenched his fists as his eyes tracked the dog’s movements around the car. May could hear the animal’s claws clicking on the asphalt.
“He’s coming to you!” Max hissed needlessly.
May swallowed, feeling her skin break out in gooseflesh. As her heart raced, pumping blood and adrenaline through her body, she thought distantly, Maybe this isn’t the best time to try for a fast after all…
Then she felt the dog’s nose at her left ankle, and she breathed in sharply. The animal nudged up her pant leg, past her dress socks, and its wet nose felt cold on her skin. Some of its slimy drool coated her shin. When it was apparently satisfied, it went to the other leg and did the same. May grit her teeth through it, placing her hands on the roof of her car. Thoughts rushed through her mind so quickly she could hardly make sense of them. Next, the dog raised his head and started to sniff around her waist. When it tried to stick its head under her coat however, May jerked, unable to take it anymore.
“Hey!” she cried out, glaring down at the animal.
The dog immediately backed away with a growl, its teeth bared in warning.
May paled, and held up her hands. “Shit…” she muttered.
But the dog didn’t advance on her. Instead, it slowly looked her up and down, and it was at that moment that the freelancer understood her brother’s unsettled remark.
“It’s like he’s trying to figure us out,” she whispered.
The dog tilted its head to one side before letting out a short snort. With its tail and ears now relaxed, it turned and walked away, up the sidewalk toward the direction they had just come. Looking ahead, May could see the kids on the street watching. They pointed and laughed, their giggling echoing down the road. May looked back at the dog, who walked calmly down the street. His confident gait spoke of familiarity with his surroundings.
More than that, May thought, It’s like he knows we aren’t a threat.
“May,” Max said hoarsely. “I would like to leave now. Please.”
May gave a start and looked at her brother. “Y-Yeah,” she mumbled.
With her keys the freelancer opened the car and slipped into the driver’s seat. She did not shut the door, however. Instead, she leaned over and unlocked Max’s door, then quickly pulled the trunk release lever. Exiting, May went to her cracked trunk and opened it. Inside was her field sample kit. Opening the black leather case, she carefully slipped on two disposable gloves and unpackaged a sterile swab. Leaning down, May used the swab to collect some of the drool the dog had left on her leg. When she held it up to the light, it didn’t look special. May wasn’t all that surprised. Still, as she put away the swab in a protective tube, she found herself very glad she had brought her sample kit with her.
“May, what’s the hold up? Let’s go!” Max shouted impatiently from inside the car.
Rolling her eyes, May finished putting her things away before returning to the driver’s side, where she finally entered the car and shut the door.
“Something is up with that dog,” May said, her eyes searching the street for any sign of the animal. It was gone.
Damn it. I should’ve had Max take some pictures or something while I got the swab!
“What do you mean?” Max asked, giving her a weird look.
May gave him a look. “Are you kidding? You saw the same thing I did!”
“Saw what? A dog that was scary as hell? Yeah! I did! Big fucking mystery! I told you, we should’ve scared the thing off! Haven’t you ever watched dog shows? Dogs that act like that are dangerous!”
“Lackley, the guy who hired me, says the dog never attacked or bit anybody.”
“That was pretty aggressive shit, though, May. It got in our personal space and didn’t care!”
“Where did it touch you, Max?”
Her brother wrinkled his nose like this was a weird question. “My ankles, my legs, my waist, and under my jacket.”
“No, I mean–show me. What order did he touch you in!”
Max raised an eyebrow and did as she asked, tapping first his left ankle, then his right, then his legs, his waist, and under his jacket. “Here, here, around here, then here, then up here.”
May could feel her breathing quicken as her body tingled with excitement. “It did the same thing to me!”
“So? Can we leave now?”
May squeezed her eyes shut in frustration. This was why she liked working alone. “You don’t get it!”
“It was searching us, Max!”
Her brother laughed. “Searching us? For food, or something?”
“No!” May looked at her brother with impatience. “The dog was too purposeful! Methodical even! Haven’t you ever seen police dogs at work? Even with a handler guiding them, they aren’t that exact! This dog? Very precise. Not only in how he searched us, but in where.”
Max shook his head slowly, giving her a weirded look. “May, I think you’re over thinking this.”
“I mean it, Max! Think about it! When a person does a body search, what are the primary areas that they focus on?”
Her brother frowned but looked down at his lap in thought. “In a body search, a person would pat down the waist, the legs, and the ankles, among other things.”
“Maybe the reason the dog didn’t search higher was because of his sense of smell? Sticking his head under our coats, he’d be able to smell any gun oil right off the bat. Besides, going up on his hind legs like that would put him in a compromised position. He didn’t know if we were a threat yet so he didn’t want to risk that.”
Max stared at her. “Listen to yourself, May! This is just a dog!”
May sighed and turned on her car. “Max, what I didn’t tell you before is that I specialize in strange cases. Having an open mind, even for the crazy stuff? Kind of required in my line of work.”
After she put the car in drive and pulled out into the street, Max huffed, “Yeah, but–”
“‘How often have I said to you that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?'” May interjected.
At Max’s bewildered look, the freelancer laughed softly and said, “Sherlock Holmes quote.”
Max shook his head and leaned on the inside of the passenger door. “You’re so weird…” the man muttered.