Cursing, Caleb started off at a trot. One of the personnel must have noticed his distressed look and stopped him.
“Is everything alright?” she asked with wide, concerned eyes. Caleb brushed her off and waved as he continued towards the building.
“Everything’s fine, just in a hurry,” he called back unconvincingly. He first searched around the perimeter of the building and through some of the more complicated landscaping, cursing whoever thought it was a good idea to do rows of flowery and prickly bushes, and diligently trampled through expensive looking flowers in the front while he peered through the green for flashes of black and cream mottled fur. It wasn’t until he confirmed there was no sign of him around this side of the building that he looked back at his tracks in squeamish guilt at the now crumpled and dirty flowers. He tried to pick a few of them back up to no avail, but hurried off while trying to look nonchalant as another police cruiser crawled by.
Once he was able to breathe freely again, he scanned the campus and wondered where Bandit might have gone. A sound of far-off barking gave him an idea, and he surged forward across campus again, opposite to where the training grounds were. That’s where the kennels were kept and the dogs were penned up in their units until they were needed elsewhere. They were comfortable enough accommodations, and most of the better-trained dogs eschewed barking in favor of remaining alert for any handler that might be coming by to put them to work. Caleb noted there was more barking than he remembered, and when he got close, he could see why.
In the middle of the open alleyway between lines of units, Bandit sat off to the side, appearing to be in deep thought. He stared at some of the dogs unabashedly, even the ones that strained themselves against their confines to bark and snap at him. None of the commotion fazed him, and Caleb walked slowly up to the stoic canine with a worried look on his face.
“Bandit? Are you alright?” he said with a nervous tremor in his voice.
“I’m fine,” Bandit said slowly without looking at him.
“What happened back in the yard?” Caleb asked.
The police dog blinked a few times, as if waking up from a dream before he answered. “I don’t know how to explain it. I just felt so overwhelmed. I felt like I couldn’t breathe. I had to get away. Just for a little bit.”
“I know it was wrong. I know I’m a bad dog,” Bandit interrupted. Caleb opened his mouth to reassure him that he wasn’t a bad dog, that he had just worried him, but he went on, with a gesture towards the caged dogs. “I used to be like them. My ignorance was my bliss, but now that veil is lifted. I used to think I was filled with so much purpose, and a part of something great. Now I know what they think of me back at the precinct. I’m just a joke.”
“No, Bandit,” Caleb said in a strained voice. “You are still a part of something great. You’re still important. We all are. Forget those guys that make jokes. They never got to know you.”
“I assure you the problem is that they do know me,” Bandit said. “I thought I was doing good work, but really I’m just adjacent to those that are.”
“Well, enough pity,” Caleb stiffened with resolve and then he went over to join Bandit on the soiled concrete. He sat heavily next to the canine and followed his gaze at a pacing K-9 officer in-training. “Do you want to change that, or not? Because words will keep you here looking at what used to be, but only action will get where you want to be. You have to deal with what is.”
“When did you get so wise all of a sudden?” Bandit asked with a side glance.
“Hey!” Caleb playfully nudged the chuckling canine. “I was always wise. I just don’t get why people don’t see it.”
“Mhmm,” Bandit hummed in mock disbelief.
“Truthfully, I have a lot to live up to, just like you have a lot to overcome. My father was a policeman, and my grandfather was too. Not K-9 officers, and they are sure to remind me of it every time I see them. Not that it’s shameful, mind you, but it is a deviation. I have something to prove as well.”
“Strange concept, parents,” Bandit noted quietly.
“Do you remember yours?” Caleb wondered aloud, just now realizing what it might be like for a dog to experience that, especially a police dog, since they were usually taken early and began training early.
“I remember my birth,” Bandit said to Caleb’s awe, “I suppose when your life span is relatively shorter, every moment counts. Yes, I can realize that now too. I can understand.”
“I don’t know what to say,” Caleb said while he clutched at his crossed knees. He had never thought about something so heavy before.
“There’s nothing to say. I accept it. Perhaps you are right about one thing though. We both have something to prove, so we might as well do it together.”
“Now that I can shake to,” Caleb said as he stood up and brushed his uniform off. He held out a hand in front of Bandit, who heartily dipped his paw into it. They shook a few times and Caleb’s smile brought out Bandit’s own cheesy canine grin.