When Dogs Won’t Dig: Chapter 2.4

They had been sitting in a diner for thirty minutes when May finally asked, “So what were you addicted to?”

Max dropped his fork and knife, the yolk from his devoured egg still clinging to his lower lip. “Seriously?”

May raised an eyebrow at him. “What?”

“Just like that? You’re going to ask me that question just like that?

“Well I thought you wanted me to know?”

“No! Of course I don’t want you to know. I mean—well yeah, I would’ve told you before if you hadn’t been all like—‘Fuck you, Max! I want nothing to do with you!’ Telling someone you came out of rehab is kind of something you aren’t eager to share, y’know? It was hard enough getting that much out without you shutting me down before I could say more!”

“Okay. So you’re irritated because you didn’t want to tell me before, but you were prepared to tell me before, only I didn’t want to hear your bullshit before, but now that I am, you are no longer prepared to tell me what you would’ve before. Is that right?”

Now it was Max’s turn to say, “…What?

May rolled her eyes and sat back in her booth seat. “Just say it, Max. I’m listening to you now and it’s kind of need-to-know if you’re going to barge your way back into my life.”

Her brother slapped a hand to the table and leaned forward, bearing his teeth. “God damn it, May! How are we supposed to co-exist if you make every breath you take an opportunity to hold that over my head?”

“I don’t know big bro, maybe I’m a little entitled to assholery since you fucked off into the unknown and left our family to shrivel up and die?

“Does it also make you entitled to being as weird as possible?”

May narrowed her eyes and looked at him over the rim of her glasses. “What are you saying?” she asked ominously.

Max huffed as he sat back in his seat. “I’m saying you’ve been staring at me eating for the last twenty minutes and haven’t ordered a damn thing for yourself! That’s abnormal!”

“I’m fasting!

“Fasting?? Who fasts? This is America for Christ’s sakes! Order a burger meal and go large like everybody else!”

May scrunched her nose and looked out the window. “That’s disgusting…”

“Your attitude is disgusting,” Max muttered churlishly.

May snapped her eyes back onto her brother. “Who bought you that fucking meal?”

“Some crabby bitch who likes to torment me!”

“Yeah? Well maybe this crabby bitch is gonna leave you to walk home to a cardboard box if you don’t answer her question!”

Max licked away the yolk that had dried on his lip. He rolled his eyes shut. “Amphetamines.”

May let her body relax a little. “Heroin?” she asked quietly.

Her brother shook his head tersely. “Not H. Fentanyl. Has similar effects to heroin but not quite the same.”

“Riskier too, I hear. It’s more potent than heroin is!”

“The United States Air Force Pararescue gives it to soldiers in the form of lollipops.”

“But you can’t get much of a high off of lollipops.”


“So how did it start?”

“How else? Stress.” Max ran a hand through his hair and leaned on the table. “I was a medic in the Army. I dealt a lot with anesthetics and saw the effects, and it looked tempting. Overseas, if we came across insurgents with medicine, chances were they were illegal. It was my job to identify what those were and advise my CO on what to do with the contraband.”

“Let me guess. One day you find the Fentanyl, you’re stressed out from war time, so you swipe some.”

Max stared at her, and May could feel her snarkiness wither and die.

“Thanks,” he said stonily. “Thanks for putting my life and my struggles in a box labeled ‘stupid.’ Now I know where it belongs.”

May tilted her head back in defiance and crossed her arms. She bit back her apology. It wouldn’t serve much good anyway. It would probably just make him more resentful and it would certainly get on her nerves. Why should she apologize for nailing the truth?

“That was just how it started,” Max mumbled. “I found a Fentanyl patch and licked it. It’s not… It’s not the kind of high that makes you detached. I mean—it’s strong—stronger than codeine and heroine, but it doesn’t numb you like they do. Or maybe it’s a different kind of numb, I don’t know. Then someone showed me how to smoke it by scraping the drug off the patches. It was around that time I started to experiment with other pharmaceutical drugs, but Fentanyl was my darling. I was addicted the first time I tried it.”

“But why?” May asked quietly. “Why do that to yourself? You didn’t even need it!”

Max rubbed his face and sagged further in his seat. Suddenly he seemed so much older. “Affecting my body and my mind like that was an escape. I was in a high risk zone in the Middle East, and more than just mangled soldiers would come to me. Sometimes, I’d get kids no older than five who had been caught in the crossfire. By taking those drugs, I felt more in control of myself. For a while I was a functioning addict… But then I started having blackouts. I’d nod off in conversations and find myself suffering withdrawals if I didn’t get a hit every two hours. One patient even went into arrest because of a stupid mistake I made. Finally my CO called me out on what was going on. After an investigation found me guilty, I did a short stint for the drug charges and was dishonorably discharged. They could’ve kept me in jail for more, but I guess they chose not to.”

May nodded slowly. She didn’t need to ask why it was that Max had only gotten clean recently if he’d been to prison. If there was one thing she had learned whilst dealing with less savory types, it was that prison almost made it easier to get your drug fix than the free world. The only thing she wondered was: what encouraged her brother to get clean at all?

Max shook his head. “There. You have your answer. Are you going to continue playing Dick Tracy today, or can I try and drown myself in the motel shower stall?”

May spared him a look as she signaled the waitress for her check. “We have a few more stops, then I promise we’re done for the day.” Then she added reluctantly, “Thanks… For telling me the truth.”

“How do you know I was telling you the truth?” her brother asked with a resentful glare. “Maybe I’m just trying to manipulate you to trust me so that I can steal your stuff?”

May gazed steadily at Max, not looking up as the waitress set down the bill. When the woman left she murmured, “It’s true that I don’t know you anymore, but I know you aren’t lying to me.”

“But how do you know?” he insisted.

May tongued her cheek before pulling out her wallet and laying down the money for the food. “Because.”

She stood, and as she passed her brother in his seat, she leaned down to hiss, “You know that story wouldn’t make me feel sorry for you and you told me anyway.”

May took a few more steps before pausing to wait for Max. The man was twisted in his seat, staring at May with a look that wasn’t gentle, but was devoid of the thorniness he’d displayed before. After another moment passed, he stood with a sigh and followed her out of the diner.


May stopped the car on Watcher Avenue where some boys were playing football in the street. Most of the houses were small one-stories with chain link fences and chipping paint. A typical low-income neighborhood, predominantly black as Lackley had told her. It was sad how sociopolitical issues shaped the geography of a city so predictably, May thought.

Max whined as she shut off her engine, “Why am I here? I wanna go back to the motel!”

“You can come with me this time,” she said without looking at him. “I just wanna take a look around the neighborhood. See if maybe the people at 3045 are here.”

“What are you looking for?” Max asked as they both exited the car at the same time.

May shut her door and shrugged. “Hell if I know.”

The air felt muggy, the sun rising to beat its ornery heat down on their heads. Dark clouds appeared from beyond the mountains, and the wind carried with it that damp heavy smell. May paused on the faded sidewalk to appreciate the shift in atmospheric pressure, the feel of the cool wind in contrast to the sun’s heat. She felt lighter. Flippant, maybe? That feeling always came before a storm.

When Max neared, May pulled herself out of her reverie and proceeded down the street. She eyed the children playing ball, smiling idly at their roughhousing. As they neared, however, the boys quieted and fixed them with wary stares. May didn’t blame them. Two white people in their area, one in a black suit, must’ve been a strange sight.

In order to resist the natural urge to wave back under such attention, May shoved her hands into her pockets and turned her eyes instead toward the houses. She counted aloud as the numbers dwindled.

“3051, 3049, 3047… Here we go.”

May stopped and felt Max bump into her. She turned to give him a small glare, and the man shrugged at her.

Shaking her head, the freelancer proceeded through the chain-link gate toward the house numbered 3045. The house, like those around it, was a one-story, but its wood siding was painted a faded sky blue. While the paint was cracked and starting to chip, it was clearly a better paint job than the other houses in the neighborhood. Azaleas grew under the windows in planters, and the lawn, though certainly in need of a good weeding, was well watered. A single pink flamingo stood in the uneven grass, and it looked new.

On the porch, in front of the door, was a dirty woven doormat that read, “Jesus is Lord.”

May took this in with a quirked eyebrow. She glanced at Max, who refused to step on to the porch. He glowered at her, clearly still sore from their conversation at the diner.

With a sigh, May knocked on the door.

When no one answered, she knocked again, and this time rang the door bell for good measure.

No response. May scratched the back of her head as she descended from the porch. “Looks like they’re out.”

“Can we go now?” Max asked, glancing over his shoulders. “I think I saw those kids get a couple of gangbangers.”

May looked over. The kids had indeed stopped playing football and were now speaking to a group of older young men in a front yard. They were looking their way and didn’t look happy.

“It’s my suit,” she said with a shrug. “It makes me stick out. If you saw strange people in your neighborhood wouldn’t you talk too?” May pulled Max after her. “Come on. Quit being such a racist jerk.”

“I’m not racist! Their staring is just making me nervous!”

“Relax. We’re—”

“You the insurance people?” a young voice said behind them.

May stopped and turned her head. At first she couldn’t see who was speaking. Then she spotted a small girl’s face peering at them from behind a window screen left of the door. She couldn’t tell the girl’s age as inside the house was dark and the screen obscured certain details. From the voice alone, May guessed it to be around eleven or twelve.

The freelancer blinked as she cautiously approached the porch. “Insurance people? Us? No.” She gestured at herself, “My name’s May Kliff,” she thumbed back at Max. “This is Max. He’s my brother. We wanted to speak to your parents. Are they home, by any chance?”

“Do they look home?” the girl said with a critical squint of her eyes. “If you ain’t the insurance folks, you need to leave.”

“Well hold on! Can’t you take a message? I’d really like to speak to your parents.”

“You a debt collector?”

May huffed. “No! I’m not here to collect money or cause any trouble! I just have some questions!”

The girl’s lips puckered. “Cops then? You got a funny suit for a cop.”

May’s jaw clenched. This was why she didn’t care for dealing with kids.

“Um, s’cuse me…” Max said. He gently moved May aside and crouched down so that he was at eye level with the girl. “Hey. Like my sister said, I’m Max. What was your name again?”

The girl ducked her gaze a moment before looking at him again. “Jan,” she mumbled.

Max smiled gently. “Hi, Jan. My sister and I aren’t cops. We’re not debt collectors, insurance people, or anything else that might cause your family trouble. We’re private detectives—“

“We aren’t dete—” May started.

Max smoothly talked over her. “—And we’re here to solve a mystery. Wanna know what that is?”

Jan nodded shyly.

“We’re here to learn about a dog that animal control can’t catch.”

Jan’s face went from shy to dark. “You’re with the dog catchers?”

“Not with them. We just want to learn more about the dog. We promise we don’t want to hurt it.”

“You can’t hurt it,” the girl said with a snort. “That dog tougher’n you!”

Max laughed. “I bet it is!”

“Well what do you wanna know, then? It’s just a dog. He don’t bother nobody.”

“We know that,” May said, standing on her tip toes as she leaned over Max to be seen. “In fact, we hear it’s a nice dog. Do you play with him a lot? They say he likes to come to your house.”

“He’s my friend.”

May gently nudged Max aside so that she didn’t have to stand on her toes anymore. “So you’re the special girl I heard about!”

Jan scratched shyly at the windowsill. “He play with everybody who is nice to him, but he plays special with me.”

May leaned forward onto her knees eagerly. “Special how?”

“He’s real smart.”

“Do you know why, sweetheart?” asked Max.

The girl opened her mouth to say something, but a loud voice from behind them cut her off.


Both May and Max turned to see the young men from earlier now stood out on the sidewalk. One of the teenagers, a wiry looking youth with a baggy white t-shirt and black shorts, come through the gate. He looked furious.

“Who are you people?” He demanded.

“That’s my brother,” Jan whispered behind them.

Max muttered out of the corner of his mouth. “Not how I wanted to start my afternoon, May.”

“Shut up, Max,” she hissed back.

May stepped down off the porch and pulled out her business card from inside her suit jacket. “Hello. My name’s May Kliff. This gentleman with me is Max, my brother. We were looking for your parents.”

“As you can see they ain’t here,” the brother snapped. He snatched May’s card without looking at it. “What are you doing talking to my little sister?”

“As I said, we were just trying to—”

“You shouldn’t be talking to no child about that!” He bit out. He leaned over to the side and shouted at Jan next, “What’d Mama tell you about running your mouth to strangers?”

May held up her hands as she heard Jan flee into the house with heavy footfalls. “Sir, we aren’t here to cause trouble. We just wanted some information about the dog that’s been roaming the neighborhood.”

At the mention of the dog, the boy’s face lightened. “This is about that stupid dog?

May gave a mild shrug.

The teenager rolled his eyes and finally took a look at her business card. His face screwed up. “Freelancer? The hell does that mean?”

“We’re private detectives,” Max chimed up.

“We’re not detectives!” May snapped, sparing her brother a glare. She looked back at the brother with a self-calming sigh. “Anyway, we’re leaving. Do you know when your parents will be available to talk?”

The teenager glanced back at his friends, who snickered at them. He waved them off with feigned annoyance and said to May, “Yeah. They’ll be back sometime after five tonight.”

May held out her hand. “Thanks. And your name was?”

The teenager seemed taken aback by her gesture, but shook hands with her anyway. “Jarod.”

“Take care, Jarod.”

May stepped around him and nodded at the boy’s friends at the fence. They parted for her and Max as they walked back down the street toward their car.

“That could’ve gone badly,” Max said with a great exhale as soon as they were out of earshot.

May snorted. “They’re just kids trying to look tough. Probably no older than fifteen.” She shook her head as she took out her keys. “Jarod was right, though. We shouldn’t have risked talking to Jan like that.”

“What was the harm? We hardly talked to her!”

May found the key she was looking for and pushed it into her car lock. “Yeah, but—”

She looked up and froze, her face going long.

Max raised an eyebrow at her, his hands on his hips. “Yeah but what?”

“Shhh!” May hissed, holding a hand out to him.

“May, what—”

“Max, for the love of God, be quiet! The dog I’m looking for is right behind you!

Previously in Chapter 2.3 | Continue to Chapter 3.1

When Dogs Won’t Dig: Chapter 2.3

Lackley’s smile broadened and he held out his hand. May took it and shook firmly. “Nice to meet you!” the man said. Relief gleamed in his eyes.

Did he think I’d bail? May wondered with a wry grin.

Her eyes flickered to the badge on Lackley’s chest, which showed the Vida county seal and the words “ANIMAL OFFICER” in bold black letters. She released her hand as she lifted her gaze and said, “Shall we get to business?”

Lackley’s expression sobered and he gestured for May to follow him. He spared Ruth a nervous smile before slipping into the double doors near the front desk. They entered a short hallway where one door was closed, but two were open, revealing a sad-looking break room and a cramped unisex bathroom. The dog kennels were loud with barking and howling, with some dogs leaping at the fences. May was reminded why she didn’t want a dog, but felt a pang for the creatures all the same. A young volunteer was cleaning one of the cages while another was trying to put a leash on a wiggly terrier mix for a walk. May followed close behind Lackley the whole way, her eyes taking in the details of their surroundings as the animal officer explained how this wasn’t meant to be a long-term shelter–just a one or two month stay for their furry guests before they were transferred to the better equipped SPCA facility in the valley.

“We don’t have the funding to care for too many animals at one time or for too long, so we handle what we can and hope that someone comes to take them home. The SPCA just sort of helps to give them more chances, but even they have limits, you know? Oh. And the dog I want you to help us catch? He’s already got a family lined up to adopt him,” Lackley said over his shoulder.

Finally they came to a cramped office where a computer was set up on a small desk engulfed in papers, folders, and post-it notes. The walls were pockmarked with holes from screws and pushpins, a single animal calendar on the right wall. On the left wall, there was a cork board over the fax machine and side cabinet, and pinned on the board was a map with bright-colored markers for what looked like a local neighborhood. Lackley gestured awkwardly at a plastic chair hidden behind the open door, and when May shut the door and sat down, he sat in his squeaky computer chair. Altogether there was about a foot of space between them.

Tugging at his ear, the animal officer reached behind him for a manilla folder and handed it to May. She took it with raised eyebrow and opened it. Inside were some newspaper clippings of the articles she’d read online, as well as some blurry photos of the dog running at full speed down a neighborhood. Rifling past these, she came to what appeared to be official reports.

Finally, Lackley spoke. “This dog is well-documented up unto a point.”

May glanced at him, then returned her eyes to the documents in her hands. “What do you mean?”

“It just…showed up. This dog came out of nowhere. Remember our first talk on the phone? How the dog kept giving us the slip for over five years?”


Lackley leaned forward and pulled out the last document in the folder. He held it up and May squinted at it through her glasses. “This,” he said. “Is our first report of the dog. Exactly five years ago.”

“You were a part-timer then,” May remarked as she took the document from Lackley. She started to scan it. Some of the fields were blacked out–mostly phone numbers. The header read, “Barking Incident Report.”

The man seemed taken aback. “Um…y-yes. I was just part-time then. How did you know?”

She gave him a sidelong look. “I investigate everything. Even clients. That’s part of what I do.”

barking report image

Click to view full size.


She looked back at the report and pointed at the top of the document. “Says here it was filled out by a Dennis Grant? Does he still work here?”

“Dennis?” Lackley shook his head. “No. He quit when I was made an animal officer.”

“So three years ago,” May murmured. She set the paper down and pulled out her notepad and pen from her inside jacket pocket. Quickly she jotted some shorthand notes.

Lackley pursed his lips and nodded. “Yes.”

“Do you know why he quit?”

“No? I think he went on early retirement. He coaches basketball at the YMCA.” He pointed at the report in her lap. “But look, that report was the first right? It says there the dog was fully grown and already showing grays. We aren’t like the bigger cities where strays can get old. Out here, if a dog is running around, it gets picked up, starves, or is run over. This dog? We thought it must have been someone’s pet, but after all the media busted out about it, no one came forward saying it was a runaway. Not a one. This dog just came out of nowhere!”

May shrugged a shoulder. “And you think that’s strange? From the looks of your facilities, you guys can only handle so much. I’d say it’s entirely possible for a dog or two to slip the cracks. Maybe the dog’s family moved away after it ran off? That would explain its age and why no one came to claim it.”

Lackley held up his hands and shrugged his mouth. “Fair enough. I just thought it was worth noting.”

May smiled patiently. “Thanks for the tip, Mr. Lackley. I wasn’t trying to shoot you down. I know you’re following your professional instincts. But I also have to trust mine. I have to keep my mind open to everything, and I can’t get too attached to a detail.”

“Right. Makes sense.” Lackley snapped his fingers and pointed up at the cork board. “Oh! That’s the general area the dog likes to frequent. Ninety percent of our calls have been in this neighborhood for the last five years. Watcher Avenue.”

May’s eyebrows rose. “Ninety percent of your calls?”

Lackley nodded. “Yes, sir.”

May set aside the folder and documents in her lap, and stood to get a closer look.

dog map image

Click to view full size.

“The dog seems fond of one block in particular, doesn’t he?” she breathed.

“Sure does,” the man responded. “Truth be told, the street is divided. Some want the dog captured pronto. Others are sort of cheering it on. These are mostly the…uh…” Lackley coughed and said with wince, “The African-Americans in the community?”

May smirked and crossed her arms. “Sticking it to the man, huh?”

“There’s this little girl that seems pretty attached to the dog. She went so far as to get in our way one day when we were chasing after it. Fisher wanted to slap the family with a violation, but I gave them a warning instead.”

“Family’s name and address?”

“The Carlyle’s. They live in house 3045 on that street. You’ll see them mentioned in some of the reports.”

May frowned. “3045? I’m seeing a ton of markers around that house. Could it be that the dog belongs to them, but they just aren’t controlling it?”

Lackley sighed and scratched his head. “Yeeeah…we thought that too. Questioned the family about it. Even went so far as to speak to the neighbors. As far as we could see, the Carlyle’s don’t own the dog, they’re just real friendly towards it. We told them if they weren’t going to take the dog in, they shouldn’t let it run around their home like that. Makes the dog think it can do that anywhere. It’s dangerous.”

“But it hasn’t drifted far in five years. Why would that situation change?” May pointed out.

“Well this isn’t the only place the dog shows up, Mr. Kliff. Watcher Avenue is just where most of the reports come from.”

The freelancer looked at the animal officer with a mild look of puzzlement. Lackley pointed off at a distant nothing. “It also has been seen lurking around Donald’s Grove, that old park and trail? Imagine if it goes up to the wrong person and gets hurt? Maybe bites a kid that’s too rough? The sooner you can help us with this, the better.”

May’s expression tightened. “So am I at risk of getting attacked? Is that what you’re saying?”

Lackley shook his head adamantly and held up a calming hand. “No, no! Very unlikely. The dog doesn’t have a history of biting, far as we can tell. What I was saying was…not all people have goodwill towards God’s creatures. If they see an old dog like that just going up to somebody looking for a handout, they might try to hurt it. A dog is gonna defend itself, you know? It’s natural. But that’s a point we have to avoid. Animals can’t speak for themselves, but humans sure are good at lying.”

She nodded slowly. Looking back at the map, May tapped her chin and asked, “Can I take this?”

Lackley blinked up at her. “The map?”

“No. The cork board too. I want to keep this just like you have it.”

“Can’t you take a picture of it?”

“I prefer working with something physical if I can help it. Besides, you’ve got a lot of markers on here!” She flicked a flag on one. “And they even have dates! This is good stuff!”

Lackley sighed, and after a moment’s thought he flicked his hand. “Aw, go on. You can borrow it. But,” He brandished a finger. “You gotta bring back the board!”

May glanced around at the thousands of little holes in the walls with a crooked grin. “Sure. Gotta preserve these walls, huh?”

Lackley looked embarrassed at first, then burst into a laugh.

Previously in Chapter 2.2 | Continue to Chapter 2.4

When Dogs Won’t Dig: Chapter 2.2

Normantown felt less like a city and more like an overgrown town. Its economy was largely based in agriculture, with acres and acres of its rich land displaying rows of crops.

So much green lettuce, May thought.

She marveled at how the vegetable stretched on into the east, the azure sky speckled with creamy clouds hugging the crops out of sight. To the west, however, was a spring of emerald mountains that chewed at the horizon with dark jagged peaks. These were Normantown’s out-lands, but further into the city limits, things became decisively urban–if all “urban” meant was more concrete and less damp irrigation smells. There were no high rises here. Apartment complexes were no taller than two stories, and most houses were bungalows or ranches. The commercial side of town had a tired feel to it, lacking in independent stores, and the few that were around were bullied by big business and chain operations. Still, there was a heart to the city, as far as May could detect–an attempt by the citizens to keep themselves inspired and to prevent those at-risk youth from believing they had no options. This was evidenced by the wealth of cultural murals, community centers, and well-cared parks.

May had only been to Normantown once before, and while she admired the city’s pluck, she sensed that only those born here could truly love it. The region had a lot of history–in terms of civil and workers rights–and had been the battleground for some major confrontations during the social upheaval of the 50’s and 60’s.

Max seemed unimpressed by Normantown’s modest atmosphere, and he sat yawning in his seat as May pulled into the parking lot of the Animal Shelter Lackley said to meet at.

The building was located on the north side of town, away from some of the heavier traffic areas, and even before May got out of the car she could hear the barks and howls of the dogs in the kennel. Once out of the car, she started straightening her black suit when she noticed Max getting out of the car too.

“No, uh-uh,” she said, knocking on the window glass. At Max’s confused look, she pointed at him and said loudly. “Stay here.”

Her brother made a face and reached over to roll down the driver’s side window. “Did you just say you want me to stay here?”

She gave a curt nod. “Yeah.” May turned and started walking toward the shelter’s main entrance.

Max shouted after her, “What was the point of me coming if I’m just going to sit in your car like a dog?

May called back over her shoulder, “So that you don’t chew up the furniture back at the hotel!”

She didn’t hear Max’s heated response as the air conditioner that blasted her upon pushing into the building swallowed all sounds from outside. An older receptionist behind a long tall white counter looked up as May approached. Her name plaque said ‘Ruth’ on it.

“Hi there! My name’s Ruth. How can I help you ma’am?” Ruth chirped.

May found she was impressed. Most people weren’t so quick to make a gender call like that. May’s business cards may have left people guessing, but nothing confused people more than meeting her in person.

She peered down the only open hallway, where a row of closed doors sat washed under a pale flickering hallway light. May looked back at the receptionist and smiled. “I was told to meet a Mr. Lackley here?”

Now Ruth’s smile turned somewhat confused. “M. Kliff?”

May’s smile broadened. “Yes, ma’am.”

“That’s odd. Lackley said he would be meeting a gentleman today…” The receptionist shrugged, her smile reasserting itself. “I’ll let him know you’re here!” Ruth picked up her desk phone and hit a button. A moment later she said, “Joe? Your ten o’ clock is here.”

There was a brief squeak from the receiver before Ruth nodded and hung up. She gave May a wink. “I like to tease him. Joe never gets appointments. He’s usually out on the field.” She gestured at the modest chairs across the room. “Would you like a seat? He’ll be a few minutes.”

“No I’m fine, thank you. Say, how long has Joe worked here?” May asked casually. She already knew, but receptionists tended to know a lot, especially if they’d been around a while. If she could get Ruth talking, maybe she’d let slip something useful.

“Well, let’s see…” Ruth’s eyes ticked back and forth, foggy in thought. “He first started working here as a volunteer about seven years ago. He became part-time about five. Then he was made full-time staff three years ago.”

“Wow, you’ve got a good memory! And how long have you been here?”

“Oh, I’m a fossil. I ought to be in a museum!” Ruth laughed and May smiled indulgently. “Honey, I’ve been around since they first put together this unit back in ’92. Before that I did a lot of work with animals in the SPCA.”

“So have you seen a lot of people come and go?”

“We do see a lot of volunteers and part-timers come and go. Mostly people working in the shelter.” Ruth’s smile turned sad. “You see a lot in here. Things that’d break your heart. Some can’t handle that.”

May propped her chin on her fist as she leaned on the counter. “And the ones who can? What does it take to be a full time employee?”

Ruth let out a low whistle. “Oooh. Well. You’ve got to have a thick skin. Like I said, you see things sometimes. Next you need to be patient. We get a lot of calls from senior citizens complaining about cats on their front lawns.” The receptionist rolled her eyes with a wry grin. “And then–”

“I hear Mr. Fisher lost his patience a little while ago.” May didn’t like to interject, but she had a feeling Ruth could go on forever unless she firmly steered the conversation.

The receptionist gave her a startled look. Her smile turned more wary. “Yes. It was a shame about Fisher.”

“Did you talk to him much? What was he like?”

“Honestly?” Ruth glanced down the hallway, then at the doors to the left of the reception desk. She leaned in and murmured. “I never liked the man!”

May nodded slowly and waited for the woman to continue. Ruth took a moment to think about her next words, then said carefully, “He was…callous. He never broke the rules, per se, but his treatment of the animals never made me much of a fan. A lot of the people who work here, we love animals, see? But Fisher?” Ruth shook her head with a disapproving scowl. “Didn’t care. He was just doing a job. He didn’t do follow-ups. Didn’t try to make the animals feel at ease. Acted like a curmudgeon with the rest of us. Quite frankly, I’m glad he’s gone, and serves him right he’s in court! What he did to that poor dog was inhumane!”

May was about to ask Ruth where she could find Fisher–just as a long shot–when the main entrance opened behind her and in walked Max, slouched and frowning. She glared at him as he approached.

“What are you doing?” she snapped, pulling him aside. “Get back in the car and wait! I’m working!

“I wanted to see if they had vending machines since you didn’t want to stop and get breakfast,” Max replied sullenly. He shoved his hands into his pockets. “And it’s getting hot in there. The least you can do is leave me the keys so I can turn on the AC.”

“And can I trust you won’t steal my car?” she hissed.

Max glared at her in disbelief. “Why the hell would I do that?”

“I don’t know. Because after ten years I hardly know you anymore and you tell me you’re just out of rehab?”

“So I’m just a mindless junkie out to feed his fix right?” Max was breathing hard through his nose, his face turning a deep red. “And I suppose your amazing show of support is supposed to keep me from using again?”

May narrowed her eyes. “Are you threatening to use again if I don’t treat you nice? Is that your attempt at guilt tripping me? Because I thought you understood that I’m still pissed at you for leaving in the first place!”

Max held up his hands. “Not doing it. It isn’t worth it, especially considering you haven’t even asked what I went into rehab for.” He turned to stomp toward the vending machines near the waiting area.

May glared after him. What do I need to know? A junkie is a junkie, and my own brother is a stranger to me. The hell does he expect?

Someone cleared their throat behind May. “Um…”

She turned to see a man close to her age smiling at her cautiously. He had dark hair with just the beginnings of a receding hair line. His face was long, and his eyes small. He was dressed in a beige uniform complete with a badge and a heavy duty belt.

“Mr. Kliff?” He asked.

May shook off her irritation with Max and managed a smile. “Hi. Yes, Mr. Lackley. Good to meet you!”

Previously in Chapter 2.1 | Continue to Chapter 2.3

When Dogs Won’t Dig: Chapter 2.1

Max lasted about thirty minutes before the questions started.

“So when you said you’re not a guy…” he started slowly.

“I meant it,” May bit out.

Her brother shifted in his seat with a great huffing sigh. “Ho-kay! Yeah. But then, when you say you’re not a girl—”

May bit her lip hard before snarling next, “There was a reason I told you that stuff up front. I didn’t want stupid questions, remember?”

“Yeah, but I mean,” Max laughed and ran a hand through his hair. He leaned on the car door, and the motions of the vehicle became more pronounced from the way it traveled through his posture. “You can’t just say that. You can’t just leave it at that! It’s too confusing!”

“It wouldn’t be confusing if you’d been around,” May muttered.

At this, Max fell silent. About an hour later, however, her brother started again. “May, are you trans or something?”

With a screech, May pulled the car to the grassy side of the road, their seats bumping violently from the speed at which they took the uneven soil.

When they came to a full stop, May hissed through grit teeth, “Get out.”

“What, why?” Max sputtered. “You can’t just stop out here, May!”

Get out!” May screamed, shoving at him.

They struggled for a while, with May alternating between shoves and punches, and Max shielding himself. Finally, he grabbed his sister’s wrists and shouted. “What’s the matter with you!?”

“I won’t go through this bullshit again, that’s what!” May returned hotly. She ripped her wrists from her brother’s grip and threw herself back into her seat. With pursed lips she straightened her glasses.

They sat there for a moment, huffing, before she spoke again, “It isn’t fucking fair. I had to do this with mom. I had to do this with Nana. It was hard enough then, getting Nana to understand, and coming to terms with the fact that mom wouldn’t. I shouldn’t have to do this again just because you pulled a vanishing act on us!” She slammed her hand into the steering wheel and felt her brother watching her, but she couldn’t look at him now. “It isn’t fair that you have the gall to judge me at all. So no, big bro, I don’t care if you’re confused! This is who I am, and if you don’t understand it, that’s because you were gone most of my life! That isn’t my fault!”

She sat there, with eyes clouded, glaring hard through the windshield but at nothing in particular. The sky ahead seemed dark and brooding with great sculptures of clouds arching into the blue sky. The world was dark underneath. That’s where we’re headed, May thought seethingly. A dark place.

“It is my fault,” Max said quietly. “And I’m…I’m not trying to judge you, May. But we’re going to be together for a while, right? Won’t I piss you off less if I don’t step on your toes? I mean…am I…can I even still call you a ‘she?’ I’m not trying to be mean—“ He added hurriedly. May just closed her eyes and felt her unshed frustration cling to her eyelashes in heavy drops. Max went on mumbling, “I mean it’s just, you say you aren’t a guy or a girl, so I don’t want to insult you…”

May listened to the traffic going by for a few minutes before she answered. “You can call me what you feel like. The English language doesn’t suit a person like me. I just want you to remember that I’m something out of the binary.” Without another word, she turned her signal light on and craned her head to see oncoming traffic. When it was safe, May pulled her car back onto the highway and sped up to the posted speed.

She drove on for a short while longer, still brooding, and Max didn’t venture to say anything else. His gaze was fixed on his knees.

May glanced at him and sighed. “I’m not trans.”

She could see her brother look at her in surprise. She continued, lips tight, “And…look, it’s complicated, okay? It’s not like I haven’t thought about it. A full transition, I mean.” She leaned on her door and held the steering wheel with one hand. “But when I tried identifying as a man I still didn’t feel right. It was hard. It seemed like there was nothing I could do to make myself satisfied with my body. With my identity. I met others like me, and they helped me find a way to deal with it. So now I’m just…me. May.” She shrugged and glowered at the road. “I just do what feels most natural to me. I still don’t feel satisfied but this is how I make it work.”

May glanced at Max again to see he was looking at her with soft eyes. She sucked at her teeth. “If you want a word, it’s trigender, all right? Google it or something.”

The rest of the trip proceeded in silence, and as the worst of travel fatigue began to set in, May was relieved to see signs for Normantown city limits. She pulled into the first motel that she came across. It was late—almost eleven ‘o clock. Her meeting with Lackley wasn’t until tomorrow morning. And so, almost dragging their feet, the siblings checked in and went up to their room–which they would have to share. May didn’t have enough to get two separate rooms. Thankfully though, the hotel room had two beds. After freshening up, May sat on her motel bed with her laptop in her lap, while her brother sat on the other. He had the TV on and flipped through the channels at low volume while she pulled up what articles she could find about this “notorious” dog of Normantown.

May was surprised by the number of hits she got. One that caught her eye was, “Lucky Dog Drives Dog Catcher Over The Edge.” Clicking on the link, May was presented with an article about Lackley’s former colleague, a Mr. Bryce Fisher, age 67, who had used veterinary strength etorphine, otherwise known as elephant tranquilizer, in an attempt to incapacitate the dog. Etorphine, as the article explained, was a controlled substance and though it didn’t specify what dose he used in his assault of the dog, the article simply stated, “Introducing the same dosage Bryce used on Normantown’s lucky dog would kill an adult human. Miraculously, the dog was not harmed.”

This made May sit back and think.

Christ, Lackley wasn’t kidding! This dog is tough… But why? What could possibly make an ordinary animal like that be able to withstand so much? She frowned and clicked on the mug shot of Bryce, whose freckled face, thinning bleached red hair, and loose chin made him look like just the kind of unhinged crackpot the media wanted to tear down.

May’s frown deepened.

…And why did this guy risk up to two years in jail and a hefty fine just for a troublesome dog?

May bookmarked the article, and in a Word document, she typed up her thoughts and added Bryce’s name to her “persons of interest” list.

Max’s voice interrupted her thoughts. “Hey…May?”

Annoyed, May looked at him over the rim of her glasses.

Max was still looking at the TV, but she could see his Adam’s apple bob as he swallowed hard. “Hey…no matter what, you’re still my little sister, y’know? Family, I mean.”

She blinked at him, uncertain how to take this statement.

Max looked at her sideways. “I’m trying to say that it doesn’t matter that you’ve changed. People do that. I’m still getting used to it, but if I screw up it isn’t because I’m trying to piss you off…okay? And I’m not trying to make you feel judged, but what you’re doing—?“ he gestured vaguely at her laptop. “It’s cool. It’s more than I ever did. I think Nana would be proud.”

May shifted uncomfortably, feeling the heat rise up her neck. “You haven’t even seen me work yet, Max…”

“You take it seriously, and it’s your own. This is your own business, right? I saw the business cards on the counter.”

May shrugged noncommittally and returned her eyes to her laptop, “Yeah, well. Y’know.” She felt foolish. What was she getting embarrassed for?

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw her brother smile. “My sis. A private eye. It’s pretty awesome.”

“Freelancer,” May corrected.

She looked to see a confused expression on Max’s face. May spared a fleeting smirk. “Private investigators just gather intel and find out the truth. I take it a step further and solve the problem itself.”

Max laughed. “My sis. A freelancer. That’s even cooler.”

May couldn’t help it. She smiled.

Previously in Chapter 1.3 | Continue to Chapter 2.2

When Dogs Won’t Dig: Chapter 1.3

“What the hell do you want Max? Your timing couldn’t have been worse,” May snarled as she packed her things into her old coupe’s trunk.

Max hovered behind her, trying to make eye contact. He leaned on the lip of her open trunk, peering into her face. “I wanted to see you,” he said. “I’ve missed you, sis.”

She scoffed and slammed the trunk shut, forcing Max to remove his hand with a yelp. “Well you’ve seen me and I’m not dead. I’m all grown up, so you can fuck off forever now. Your guilt is assuaged.”

Her brother followed close behind as she went to her driver door. Just as she started to open it, he slammed it shut. “Hey, goddamnit, I’m still family!”

May glared at him, livid he had the audacity to stall her. “Is that so!? You’re family now, Max? Would family bail out when their mother sinks into alcoholism and their grandmother fades with Alzheimer’s? Would family leave their twelve year old sister to swindle tourists just so she could buy school supplies?”

Max wilted, but May dug in deeper, invading his space like an angry goose. “You leave for more than ten years of my life, then show up with your tail tucked between your legs and I’m supposed to just accept you? Is that how this works? Do you have any idea what I’ve been through by myself? Do you know anything about my beliefs to understand just who the hell is standing in front of you today?” May thrust out her arms and shouted. “Do I look like your little sister anymore, Max!?”

Max bowed his head. “I…I don’t know what to say to you. I’m sorry?” He laughed sardonically. “It doesn’t even cover it! And I’m being even more unfair because I’m at my all time low, sis.” Max looked at her, and she could see the lack of sleep in his eyes, the lines of wear that were years too early in his face. “I’m out of rehab and I ain’t got no where to stay.”

May shook her head slowly. “You bastard. Are you seriously asking me this?”

He pressed his hands together. “May, look at me! I’m a bum! I couldn’t make it on my own and it was wrong of me to leave the family, especially when you needed me most.”

May shoved Max and spat on his shirt. “Get away from me.” She turned and slipped into her car.

Max appeared at the window, tapping it desperately. “May! Come on, please! I’ve got nothing! No one! Just you!” A tear trickled down Max’s gaunt face.

May sneered at him as she turned on her car, “And whose fault was that?”

“I want to make it up to you! Please, sis, let me make it up to you!”

“You can’t,” she spat. With that, she shifted into gear and pushed her gas pedal to the floor.

Max danced away as the car chewed up the gravel driveway before shooting forward toward the street. May glared at her rearview to find Max running after her car, his face contorted with emotion. As she sped to the street’s end, her brother became a small figure, shouting unintelligible things. May stopped with a squeal at the stop sign as a truck rumbled past. When the other car was gone, she didn’t move, still glaring into her rearview mirror as her brother approached.

May wrung her steering wheel, teeth bared. “Bastard. Stupid cheeky bastard,” she muttered angrily.

Why should I give him a second chance? He never gave me any choice when he disappeared and left me to deal with Mom and Nana! She thought. He’s a junkie! What if he just steals my money or hocks my TV and vanishes? And god, the questions! He’ll want to play catch up, and ask why I look the way I do, and what my job is like and—

Max appeared at May’s window, sweating and with his duffel bag in hand. He said nothing, just stood gasping and gazing at her helplessly.

With a tense jaw May leaned over and unlocked the passenger door. Without a word, Max hurried to it and slipped into the car. Before he even shut the door, May started talking. “I am not leaving some ex-junkie alone at my house, so you’re going to come with me until I finish my job at Normantown. You aren’t going to bother me, get in my way, or even breathe loudly while I’m there. When we get back, your ass is getting a job and getting out of my house, pronto.”

Max nodded.

May shifted the car into gear and started to accelerate, but then she stopped abruptly causing them both to jerk forward. Max looked at her in confusion, and she pointed a finger in his face. “And let’s just get two things straight since I don’t feel like dealing with annoying questions, which you’ll no doubt try to ask. First, I don’t identify as a girl or a boy, and just because I accept that the English language is binary and people call me whatever they feel like, that does not mean that I will accept any notions you might have of how I ‘should’ behave, so keep your mouth shut. Next, the only damn reason I’m doing this is because I don’t want to be like you. I do not like this, I do not want this, and I want you gone. Understand?”

Max sighed and nodded again. Satisfied, May shifted and fed the gas, and their first family trip in over a decade began.

Previously in Chapter 1.2 | Continue to Chapter 2.1

When Dogs Won’t Dig: Chapter 1.2

May hated packing. She was only taking one small suitcase and her laptop, but for this case, she wondered if it would be necessary to take her sample kit with her. She had a friend who worked in a lab, and if this dog was really so odd, it may pay off to have a sample or two analyzed. May rubbed at her neck as she stared down at her suitcase, already packed with two outfits, a pair of pajamas, some toiletries, and her other tools of the trade—gloves, lock picks, magnifying glass, and the like.

This is stupid. Why am I taking this case? It’s a dog. What am I going to do with a sample kit? Collect his drool and find the cure for cancer or something?

May pinched the bridge of her nose. She could feel a headache coming on.

I’m over thinking this. Nana always said life can’t be predicted. Just take the stupid sample kit and stop grumbling, M.

Sighing, May went to her closet and dug out the small kit box and threw it on top of her other things in the suitcase. Around this time, her printer started squealing as it printed off Lackley’s signed contract agreement. May pursed her lips. That was it then. She was hired, and the only way to get out of it now was if certain conditions were met as outlined by her contract:

  1. If at any point in time, she was injured to the point that she could not carry out her duties.
  2. If May encountered evidence that her client was withholding critical information that put her or others at serious risk.
  3. If May decided, upon receipt of adequate information, that she was unfit to solve the problem (in which case she would recommend someone who could).
  4. If Lackley fired her.

But May had a reputation to uphold. She turned and stared at her reflection in the vanity mirror, which stood in the corner of the bedroom. She picked at her black suit, the slim tie askew on her chest from her digging around. May straightened it and squared her shoulders, running her fingers through her tuft of long hair at the top, then along the thick black frames of her glasses. Everything, even her look, had been tailored to fit her role as someone intelligent and capable, and not just that, but someone fit to handle the strange cases people brought to her doorstep. Her entire career as a freelancer depended on the good word of others, this dog case being a perfect example. If people heard she quit after a contract was signed without just cause, her business would dry up. May relied on people trusting her. She had to take this seriously, even if she had her doubts.

Nana wouldn’t turn her nose up at this, and neither can I.

With a resolute nod, May unplugged her devices around the house and made sure all the windows and the back door were secure. That done, she gathered her things and was about to leave, hand on the doorknob, when she heard someone knock on the door. Startled, May stopped and blinked at her door in confusion. The knock came again.

May opened the door and felt her skin go cold with shock.

Standing before her was Max Kliff, May’s older brother, dressed in worn out Goodwil clothes with a duffel bag over his shoulder. His face was slim, unhealthily so, and his spiky dark hair was sporting a few grays. He stood and gazed at her with wide eyes, his mouth open like a fish. Then his eyes trailed down and back up again.

His eyes squinted. “May? Is that you?” he uttered.

May felt deafened by some existential force, her limbs stiff and her thoughts scattering in wild patterns that made them hard to pin. Then, as though she were being plummeted back to Earth, the static receded, the cold was swallowed up by the heat of her blood rushing back to her skin, and her mind speared one singular word.

May dropped her things on the floor as the word clawed up her throat—


One punch to the face, a strong front kick to the chest, and Max was sent flying backward, off the porch and onto the gravel path that cut through May’s front lawn.

Her brother lay there, motionless for a moment, before he raised his unsteady head and wheezed out, “Yeah. Looks like I’m at the right place.”

Previously in Chapter 1.1 | Continue to Chapter 1.3

When Dogs Won’t Dig: Chapter 1.1

Black Dog on the Beach - Block Island, RI

(Photo credit: ChrisGoldNY)

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?”

Continue to Chapter 1.2