“So, what was the call about?” Bandit asked nonchalantly, as if they weren’t racing down the city’s overhead freeway.
“A tip from Margaret. There’s a disturbance at the Nutty Nut Bakery downtown, and we’ll be meeting Robinson and a few other members of the K-9 unit there. Something big is happening,” Caleb muttered.
Silence covered the rest of their short trip, and when Caleb pulled the squad car up to the quaint Nutty Nut Bakery, the scene was highly reminiscent of the flower shop the day before. Windows were smashed, people were fleeing in between the squad cars already there, uselessly forming a barricade. The only light came from the city’s other buildings, and a small fire that had erupted in the back of the bakery. The shadows of the night were cast deeper among the cracks and broken glass. This time, not only the windows were smashed, but parts of the brick and drywall were blown away with jagged teeth outlining the building’s wounds. Caleb’s eyes followed the line of the wall’s potholes and bruises and winced. Some of them must have been load-bearing, and this building was at least three stories with the bakery only occupying the ground floor. The rest were apartments and offices with side entrances leading to stairs, and possibly an entrance from the rear beyond the alley, Caleb noticed. They had to focus on evacuating as soon as possible, but it was clear that people were still inside, even in the wavering bakery.
“We have to get everyone to safety,” Caleb muttered to Bandit before they joined the rest of the squad. “The building might collapse at this point.”
“It might be a little bit harder this time,” Bandit said quietly in return, and when Caleb looked at him confusedly, the canine nodded to something ahead of them beyond the barricade and to the side of the store. It’s where the other policemen were focusing with their guns out and another officer directing everyone from their crouched positions behind the cars. Caleb followed his partner’s line of sight and couldn’t believe he had missed it, but the darkness really worked in its favor now. It took a minute for the outline to come into view, but it was clearly the man they had been tracking all along, except now he looked even bigger – in height and in mass.
The flannel and jean clothes were even more torn now, but it didn’t detract from the modesty because the stone looked like it was taking over his body. His arms and legs had become thicker with concrete so they resembled trunks, and his torso was absolutely solid with gray stippled concrete. His face had all but disappeared and his features were indistinguishable among the dome that was forming. Traces of humanity were slowly disappearing, and all Bandit and Caleb could do was gape at the monstrosity. The creature gave a shattering roar while it braced its limbs – it’s only humanoid characteristics left – and then it swung at the corner of the building again.
Shots were fired, but were clearly doing no damage to the creature, and more ricocheted off. When the officer in charge saw that, he ordered everyone to hold fire. The ricochets were more dangerous than the useless shooting, and he talked into his communicator clipped to his uniform’s lapel, seeking back-up and instruction. With another swing, the creature connected with the building and bricks flew in all directions, denting the cars, breaking windshields, and injuring at least one officer who hadn’t ducked in time. The scream was brief as he was knocked backwards. That was the last straw for the building, and it wavered sickly, and then collapsed as a wave of dust washed over the barricade.
Caleb rushed into the fray as soon as the dust settled and his coughing subsided. Bandit seemed frozen in place, but he bounded ahead to catch up to his partner, who vaulted over the hood of a blinking police car and slid to the other side. Bandit followed suit with a powerful leap that cleared the barricade and then they were face to face with the rubble, but the concrete creature was nowhere to be seen. Both officers looked from side to side in disbelief. How could he be just gone?
They didn’t have time to pursue the perp as other K-9 units came forward and started instructing their partners to sniff out the survivors. The building was toast, and the awning that had held the franchise’s banner and mascot was torn and covered in debris and dust. Only a few frames of the building had been left standing, but wood and brick had crumbled like dominoes. Already dogs were finding dust-covered survivors and were being helped out of the rubble, but most weren’t that lucky. Caleb and Bandit joined in the search and it was frustrating. Whenever Bandit felt he had a lead to someone he could save, he quickly realized he was just finding lifeless bodies. Unlike the other canines, he knew it was still important to retrieve and identify them, but it still took a toll on his newly gifted conscience.
His mind couldn’t stay off the perp that had escaped under the cover and noise of the collapsing building. He figured if they inspected the nearby buildings they would find potholes like the one he had climbed before, but they didn’t have the time to go off and search. However, his mind kept being pulled away by the possibility, and it showed in his search. He passed Blue Steele and Robinson a few times, and Blue Steele was having a better track record than he, which only added to his stress. In his ignorance before, the competitive spirit wasn’t as pronounced, and now he sorely missed that.
Most of the building was searched now, and Bandit covered that last corner in the back while the rest of the dogs were on break or being praised and rewarded. The sable canine crossed a few times back and forth, thinking he smelled something worth investigating, but his thoughts and stress kept pulling him away. Any little sound would cause him to jump and disrupt the trail and then he would have to start all over. His frustration mounted and the morning had been long already – the sun was starting to rise. In the dawn’s first rays of light, Bandit thought he saw missing chunks in the building just beyond the alleyway. Had that been how Orville – or so they were assuming this creature was – had escaped? The canine took a few tentative steps forward to get a better look, and Caleb tensed on the leash.
“Did you Find something?” he asked, invoking the command to keep Bandit on track. It had been a long morning of frustration for officers on both sides now, and it was showing on Caleb’s grime-covered face and mussed hair.
“This corner is clean,” Bandit said hastily. “I think I know how the perp escaped. Can we check out that building over there?”
“I don’t see anything, but I can ask the commanding officer on the scene,” Caleb said with a sigh. They started to carefully make their way out of the rubble pit and back onto the street, where Caleb chatted a few minutes with the other officers before he started walking Bandit towards the alleyway. “Alright, we can check it out, but he’s long gone now. This isn’t good. It’s escalating.”
“I realize that,” Bandit said with an edge in his voice. They were passing the corner he had just spent almost an hour searching, and Blue Steele was sniffing around in it. Caleb followed his gaze.
“I thought you cleared that area?” Caleb said with a look of confusion on his face. “You didn’t find anyone?”
“No, I didn’t,” Bandit said tersely and kept walking, but Caleb signaled for him to halt. Blue Steele ran back to Robinson and at the prompt of “Show”, he led his partner back to the corner where most of the heavy rubble had fallen. He started clearing the bricks until he reached a shattered desk that had a small protected cavity inside. It was within that where the officer reached in and grasped a dusty hand that reached out desperately grasping for a savior.
“I think you missed someone,” Caleb whispered.