Star Dog: Earth’s Last Shield 1.14

Back at the station a few hours later, Bandit laid near a bench outside of the Chief’s office. It was just like when his previous partner was busy switching off of him, but all the heavier with his new sentience. Now that he could understand what was going on, his previous vague canine guilt manifested into fully fledged despair. He had made a mistake, and now he felt like he was really going to pay the price. The slamming of mahogany could be heard from outside the office, along with deep, raspy shouts. Instinctively, Bandit knew they couldn’t be coming from Caleb, who was also in there enduring it all for him – the useless sack of fur.

It was well into morning now with all of the officers milling about the lobby and their cubicles, and the story from what happened at the bakery had long circulated around the office. In the time that the K-9 units had been recalled while other officers and paramedics took care of the scene, the totals for the incident had been tallied.

It could have been worse, and had certainly looked it at the time, Bandit noted. There were twenty-three people injured in the collapse, and eight fatalities. Many who had blamed the new housing initiatives by private corporations to rebuild apartments in nicer areas of the city now thanked them for the relatively low list of causalities. People had practically been flocking in droves to the new apartments that consequently separated the social divides even wider, and buildings in the worse areas of the city were starting to empty – the Nutty Nut Bakery was no exception.

Caleb came out in his dusty and disheveled uniform since he hadn’t had time to change before being taken into the boss’s office. His hat was held in his hand and he looked utterly exhausted and defeated, but when he caught Bandit’s eye he tried to smile and look cheerful. It was a pitiful attempt, but Bandit accepted it with a slow wag. Caleb had been brave to defend him like a true partner would, and he wouldn’t forget it. They walked over to Caleb’s cubicle where he sat down heavily and exhaled like a deflated balloon. “I’m sorry,” was all Bandit managed to say.

“It’s okay, buddy,” Caleb said as he placed his hat on the corner of his sparsely decorated desk. “The Chief is stressed because we have no idea what we’re dealing with. Sure, you missed someone, but that doesn’t undo all of the people you found and saved. You’re still a good dog, and we’ll get to the bottom of this.”

“How can we? Did you even see that monstrosity? It doesn’t even look human anymore. Could we have made a mistake? Do you really think that it’s Orville in there?” Bandit whimpered quietly. Their cubicle was slightly isolated from the others and more or less private, but Bandit kept his voice down nonetheless, as did Caleb, although he hoped his small desk fan and fervent typing on his computer would mask the sound.

“I’m sure of it. Raymond Orville is missing, and that creature has something to do with it one way or the other. He was identified by skin cells left on the flannel. Why would he steal his shirt? Also, witnesses placed Orville in the same outfit – remember he had walked off his construction site. We can’t ignore this,” Caleb insisted while he looked at the files again.

“I guess you’re right,” Bandit relented as he peered at the monitor with him by sitting on his haunches and leaning against the desk. Caleb tilted the screen down just a bit.

“I just wish we could tie all these places together,” Caleb muttered. “The jewelry store, the flower shop, and now the bakery. What do all these things have in common?”

Suddenly, Bandit’s right ear swiveled and then he basically collapsed on the ground and adopted the dopiest canine grin he could as he flashed his belly to the world. Caleb spun around confusedly at the sudden movement and mouthed “What are you doing?” before Christine came around the corner and entered his cubicle with a quick perfunctory knock on the wooden divider. Her blond ponytail swung from the inertia of her quick, business-like stop, and Bandit recognized her as the temporary handler before he had been handed to Officer Torres, a concept he now understood. There was another German shepherd with her, a female with black and tan points coloration.

“Aww,” Christine cooed and gave him the obligatory belly rubs before addressing Caleb. “I just came to check on you and Bandit and wondered if you wanted me to take him for food and water while you work. I’m on my way there with Daisy now for Greg.”

“That’s very kind of you,” Caleb said, with pleasant surprise lining his voice. “Thank you. I’m sure he needs it after today. You’ll bring him right back after?”

“Of course,” Christine smiled. “Don’t let the Chief get to you. He’s like that to everyone.” Taking on a more serious look, she added, “I know what everyone thinks of Bandit, but he actually did good out there. He seems different since he’s been with you – more focused. I have to believe it’s something you did that no one else on the force was able to do yet. He’s actually a good dog.”

“I wish I could take all the credit, but I doubt I was the great catalyst. He probably just felt it was time, or the circumstances were right. Either way, it’s all him,” Caleb said with his hands clasped behind his head while he leaned back in his chair.

“No need to be modest,” Christine said with a wink before she left with both Bandit’s and Daisy’s leads in hand. “C’mon, boy.”

On their way to the K-9 area for food and drink, Bandit couldn’t help overhearing a conversation he wished he hadn’t. In a room they passed, a man in a three-piece, tawdry brown suit was talking to Robinson, and Blue Steele was panting happily right next to them.

“He really is a hero, you know,” the man said. “That woman he found in the debris was a single mother to three young kids, and she’s also the sole caretaker for her disabled mother. Their family is still together because of Blue Steele’s actions. He saved more than just one person by saving her – he saved five. They want to show their appreciation in person. Look – one of the kids already drew a picture of him while waiting in the hospital.”

Before Bandit could hear anymore or crane his neck to look at the crude crayon drawing he was sure was full of love and adoration, Christine kept them walking past and into the break area. The water he could appreciate, but he wasn’t quite hungry yet. The food tasted bitter while all he could think about was how he had walked away from that area, completely sure that it was devoid of life.

If everyone had taken his word for it, four more wards of the state would be added, siblings split up possibly forever and raised by strangers, and an old woman passing away in a cold hospice room with no family around. The thoughts repeated themselves in a despair spiral that seemed to have no bottom, and he was still reeling when Christine dropped him back off to Torres.

He stood next to his partner as they both watched the female officer recede down the hallway past more cubicles. Caleb waved slightly, although she didn’t see it, but Bandit was silent until he was sure they were alone. His thoughts weighed heavily on him, and he almost couldn’t bring himself to say what he had to next.

“What’s wrong?” Caleb said when Christine had left and he had resumed his seat at his desk. “You look like someone ate your cat.”

“I want you to talk to the Chief and switch off me,” came Bandit’s steely reply.


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