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