When Caleb pulled into the Academy parking lot, Bandit’s heart sank. The building was more intimidating than he remembered, especially now that he could catch the nuances of what it would mean.
“I thought you said that I didn’t need to be here?” Bandit said sullenly as they drove past the training grounds with officers and canines already working together. All of the dogs there looked focused and in shape, and Bandit began to doubt himself. He indulged in some self-pity, which Caleb could recognize, but the sullen canine also felt a little betrayed. He felt like Caleb had broken a promise.
“I did say that, but that was before I saw what happened,” Caleb said as he turned into a parking space and halted. He turned off the engine and looked out the windshield in deep thought. “You hesitated, and a fellow officer got hurt. Luckily, Blue Steele is going to be okay, but it could have been worse. We need to figure out why that happened, and fix it.”
“I don’t know how to explain it,” Bandit said as he followed his gaze.
“I think I do,” Caleb said. “Fear. You didn’t have any confidence before, but now with your newfound sentience, you’re feeling everything that comes with it for the first time.”
“That’s very insightful,” Bandit commented with a subtle hint of sarcasm.
“Are you saying that I don’t look insightful?” Caleb asked with mock offense and a raised eyebrow.
“You look like a Jarhead,” Bandit quipped.
“Ouch,” Caleb said as he began to exit the vehicle. “I prefer clean-cut. How do you even know that word?”
“I wish I could tell you,” Bandit said as he followed him through the parking lot. “I guess I must have heard it, in another lifetime.”
“Well, I’m not too surprised. Just dismayed,” Caleb said with a frown. “I just want you to know, I’m not leaving you here. I’ll work with you on some exercises today, and we’ll take it from there.”
“I don’t have high hopes,” Bandit muttered, but Caleb didn’t acknowledge it. They had to weave through the lobby of the Academy’s main building to make it out back. It was a short stint inside to make it to the training grounds, but Caleb could still feel Bandit tense up once they were inside. His focus wavered and he seemed to want to shrink into Caleb’s shadow. He couldn’t help but wonder if something had gone terribly wrong in training to cause Bandit’s misgivings. If it were this apparent though, how did he graduate onto the force? Caleb pinned his thoughts for a more appropriate time, because as soon as they were out there, they were amidst other officers-in-training and their K-9 partners.
Bandit’s tenseness did not dissipate, and Caleb calmly walked him over to a bench and tied his leash to it. He looked around for the equipment shed and spotted it across the field.
“Stay here, boy,” Caleb patted him. “I’m going to go get some cones and other things to work with. We’ll try to pinpoint exactly what your problem is.”
As he walked away, Bandit sat calmly at the bench, but his inner turmoil began to bubble. Other German shepherds of the traditional black and tan variety were racing through courses on the field and following their partner’s commands perfectly. Only a few were darker sable than him, but they were just as competent. Their muscles flexed as they catapulted over walls, sprinted across walkways, and leapt through tunnels.
Bandit felt like he could hear their heartbeats thundering alongside his own. He could smell the hard work on their breath and the intimidation as a dog here or there noticed him. He could see their gnashing teeth and bristled fur. It was all becoming too much. He looked around desperately as he caught himself up in his leash. While trying to untangle himself, he only made it worse and his ensuing panic began to flutter. His wild eyes dashed back and forth, and he knew he only had one choice.
* * *
Caleb rummaged around in the equipment room while he devised the training session in his head. It would take a few scenarios to determine it, but he got the clear sense that the dog just had no confidence. It could be a problem in a regular dog, so of course it could be a problem in an enlightened dog. Seeing the other dogs in the field and how professional they were in training already was a little disheartening. Some of the comments from back in the station floated around his mind. What if human intelligence and sentience wasn’t enough in an established failure of a police dog? What if his new gifts weren’t enough to compensate? Caleb shook those thoughts away as he began stacking cones in his hand. He wanted to believe in Bandit. It was too soon to just write him off as a lost cause.
He thought back to his own days in training just a few short weeks ago. He had loved working with his own K-9 partner while in training, but unfortunately, they hadn’t gone on to the same precincts. It happens sometimes, as Caleb had been told. He missed how easy it had been in comparison. Had he really lucked out that much? He didn’t recall any real problems like he was experiencing now, but in all fairness, his supervising officer had warned him that not everything was as easy out here in the real world. The real world, he thought again. It was strange to think that he was now a fully-fledged officer and taking on cases, but he felt eager to prove himself.
He finished gathering up his cones and combat pads in the dim light and put them under one arm while he closed the shed again. He started across the field while watching the training courses. It was still exciting to watch and his adrenaline was pumped even farther from the shouts pushing each canine to go higher, farther, and faster.
He got really caught up in watching wistfully and remembering when he had done the same exercises. It felt like a lifetime ago already. When he turned back to the bench where he had left Bandit, he had to double-take to make sure he was in the right place. He saw a piece of evidence that confirmed it, and he moved forward quickly to see it. When he realized what it was, it felt like lead had dropped into his stomach.
The leash was broken and frayed, and Bandit was nowhere in sight.