“Call Me Fang”
by Tom D Wright
Call me Fang; everyone does. It’s not my real name; I left that on the battlefield years ago.
The ideal private detective is one that nobody suspects, which is the same reason DARPA developed me and my kind to begin with—an Enhanced Canine can freely move behind enemy lines.
I sniff through the slats of the fence surrounding my quarry’s backyard, and her pheromones tell me she is sufficiently distracted. So I stretch up and use my paw to pull the latch, then nudge the gate open just wide enough to slip through. A slight wag of my tail indicates to the small pack of several neighborhood dogs that food lies in the backyard, so they eagerly venture through the opening.
My simple cousins are so predictable. They trot around the yard snuffling for hidden treats while the DARPA microchip in my eye snaps several images of the cheating spouse. Her husband was right to hire me to keep surveillance while he was on his business trip. My client left this morning, and just before noon the long-haired boyfriend drove up in a convertible for a three-course lunch. When a few stray dogs conveniently wandered by a few minutes later, I decided to use them as a distraction.
Bikini-clad Blondie is stretched out on a lounge chair beside the pool, and the woman doesn’t notice the intruders while her boyfriend slides her bottom down. Then she whines, “Why are these dogs here?”
Lover-boy brushes it aside. By the time she pushes him off and sits up, I have the evidence I need and leave the pack to marking bushes while I trot out through the open gate.
It’s almost too easy. A block away I pause under a large shrub, and anyone watching will think I’m licking my family jewels. I’m actually activating the hidden Wi-Fi chip. This pedigree fur coat conceals another prized DARPA program—an artificial neural network consisting of a comms system, data storage and mental enhancements, all powered by an embedded biological battery.
When I paired up with my human after he graduated from Basic Recon, DARPA was still trying to figure out how the artificial cortex actually worked. The secret sauce was the bond I forged with him.
After I mentally compose a brief report, I upload it along with the photos to my client’s email account and a reminder to pay the remainder of the fee to The Carson Agency. Because I conduct all my business online, nobody realizes they are dealing with an Enhanced Canine.
My email account has a few new messages from potential clients. No rush, I only need a job or two a month to cover my modest expenses and I prefer to keep a low profile. That was indoctrinated into me during the Force Recon courses.
The send confirmed, I switch the Wi-Fi off because I don’t like the idea of being tracked. I have no reason to believe The Corps is looking for me but I prefer to stay retired and DARPA can find some other subject to dissect. My client lives across town from the place I call home, a couple hours by paw. I could call for an Uber but it’s a nice day and I know a shortcut through the city park.
I’m in the mood to chase a few rabbits.
Two blocks from Sophie’s house, I detect a sweet/sour spoor which brings out the primal dog in me. It’s Lorelei, that tri-color sheltie who teases me every time her owner walks her past my yard. Hell, I may have an enhanced IQ but when a bitch goes into heat, I’ll howl as much as the next dog.
Not that a German Shepherd-Chesapeake Bay Retriever mix like me would get anywhere near Lorelei. She is a blue-ribbon show dog, which is why her owner didn’t spay her. I’ve earned several medals, but not the kind that Lorelei’s owner cares about.
Since I’m not into masochism, I head on home.
Sophie knows I’m an Enhanced Canine, retired USMC, oorah. After an IED killed my human, I cashed out because the kind of bond an e-K9 Team requires happens just once in a dog’s life. Most of my bankroll purchased a customized doghouse with electric heat, Wi-Fi and a water bowl that never empties. I give Sophie $400 a month to lease part of her backyard to me, and that includes a water hose and a 12-gauge extension cord out to my house for utilities. Someday I might pay for a permanent installation, if I decide to stay. On top of that, I give her an extra twenty percent to keep my food bowl full and empty my poop sandbox.
Sophie’s an online reporter for an edgy news site. I’ve read some of her work and it’s damn good but she also knows how to be discreet. Still, when I first moved in she asked several times about my past, until I ordered a moving truck for my house. When it showed up she apologized and I relented after she threw in a free month’s rent. Like I told her, if I wanted to go back there I would have re-upped, thank you.
Don’t get me wrong, Sophie’s not bad for a human—I even let her pet me for a minute last week.
When I enter the backyard, Sophie is working on her column and looks up from her chair on the porch. Her bright yellow sun dress contrasts nicely with her dark brown skin and the loose black curls flowing over her shoulders. The eye DARPA installed for me to take photos also provides color vision up through infrared, which is very handy when hunting rabbits.
“Hi Fang,” she says, holding out a brush. “Your coat could use a good brushing. If you want.” Yearning to connect drips from her voice, and her pheromones tell me her intent is genuine.
She knows I understand, though I can only reply through electronic messaging. The DARPA program that produced me put a Wi-Fi implant in my human, whose name it still hurts too much to mention, so we could directly and silently respond to each other. I literally felt his pain when he died.
“Sorry, Sophie, I’m busy today. Perhaps another time,” I respond. I have avoided human touch ever since my human died.
The electronic door of my custom doghouse lets me in and I connect to the internet. Another new message, and they are all from the same human; a father who wants me to find his missing 14-year-old daughter. I send a text to his mobile number. It remains a mystery to me why humans will do almost anything to avoid talking to each other whenever possible, but it works in my favor.
“Did you talk to the cops?” I send, after introducing myself.
“I have. They said Julianne probably just ran away but that’s not like her. Then they asked if I abused her.”
“Did you? I’ll know if you were.” I will do anything for a fee that isn’t criminal, and returning someone to an abuser is at the top of my list of crimes.
“Of course not!” the man responds.
“My fee for a local sweep is $500 whether or not I find her, and I start once you process the fifty percent deposit through my website. I’ll get back to you within 24 hours. When did you last see her?”
“Two nights ago, when she went to bed. I left for work early the next morning, and she never came home from school. When I called the police last night, they said they won’t investigate until she’s gone at least a week or there’s proof of a crime.”
“I’ll find her or I’ll find your proof. She lives with you? Who else lives there?”
“Just her, my wife and I.”
“Okay, send your home address. That’s all I need for now.”
Within minutes I get the notification that the funds have been sent. Luckily, my new client lives within running distance, and like any dog I love to run. It’s dusk when I arrive, so I can sniff around the property unnoticed.
An older man’s scent hangs in the air, heavy with booze from his pores and a hint of perfume that his wife can’t smell, but I predict she’ll be a future client. Her odor is distinctive with a medical condition that she should look into. The adolescent female spoor must be Julianne’s and it is indeed a couple days old—faint but clear.
I close my eyes and taste it deeply, memorizing it. There’s an undertone to her scent that I can’t quite place.
Then I move away from the house, down to the far corner of the block and sample the air. I easily solve most of my missing person cases by merely using a sense humans have long forgotten—my nose. Unless someone has been truly abducted and removed from the area, their scent rides the wind. If I can pick up even a trace of fresh Julianne scent, I just head in that direction and narrow my search until I locate her.
My wolf ancestors used to hunt and run down deer this way, and my IQ isn’t the only enhanced genetic trait DARPA gave me to do recon. My nose is even more sensitive than a polar bear, and they can smell seals underneath feet of ice.
No trace of her at the end of the block. The light breeze comes from the west, so I cut across the wind, heading north and pausing to check every hundred feet. Five blocks later, I catch a whiff of Julianne and head upwind. Now it’s just a matter of time.
As I zero in, angling to the right or left to strengthen the scent, something about this case troubles me. My network connection is still on, so I run a search and find that Julianne has gone viral on the net. Or rather, the video of her posted by my client.
He’s not the first client who neglected to mention important but inconvenient details.
I start with the original video her father posted. The opening shot shows a disheveled girl on her knees in front of a toilet, passed out with her auburn hair draped over her head. Julianne is wearing only pink panties and a rainbow pony shirt.
He moves in closer, saying, “I warned you that if I caught you drinking again, I’d post it online. How does it feel to be a public spectacle?”
He zooms in on her head, while the girl stirs and then peers up at the camera in bewilderment before she turns her face into the basin and vomits. Most of the other search results are either parodies of the video or boys making lewd offers to ride her pony.
Julianne’s scent grows stronger as I follow it down a steep hill into a forested ravine. Closer and stronger now, I’m certain her scent has no trace of alcohol byproducts and identify the undertone that puzzled me at first. Julianne wasn’t vomiting because she was drinking; she’s pregnant.
Then I find the girl, wearing her school uniform of a dark blue plaid skirt and white blouse, suspended from the thick branch of a tree. Her body dangles ten feet above the ground, a noose around her neck. A tattered, stuffed teddy bear lies on the ground beneath her, which she was holding when she stepped off a lower branch.
I take a photo of Julianne’s body, and head back up to the street. By the time I get there, I decide what to do.
Simone was the tech liaison in my unit where she managed my technology. We both shipped out but stayed in touch after becoming civilians. She works in secret places she can’t talk about, and that gives her access to do things she can’t talk about. Including what I ask her to do now, once I explain the situation.
I curl by a tree at the edge of the green space and wait, thinking about the baggage humans carry. When dogs meet, we accept each other exactly as we are. We don’t care what color your fur is, how big or small you are, or who your owner votes for. All I want to know is, do you want to bite me or play with me? Though I must admit, maybe I’ve carried my own human baggage, especially with Sophie.
Honestly, I’ve lived with humans my whole life and I don’t think I’ll ever understand them. Why do they have such a deep need to hurt each other? I doubt Julianne ever hurt anyone in her short life.
Simone notifies me that what I requested is done. I check. It’s not bad for a rush job.
I send a message to my client, “I found your daughter. Watch the end of the video you posted.” I don’t tell him that the video is edited, and now ends with the photo of his daughter and a caption reading, ‘THIS is how shame makes me feel.’
I don’t even charge him for the rest of my services— Julianne already paid for them.
Then I head home, wondering if Sophie still wants to brush me.
Tom D Wright is a science fiction author in the Pacific Northwest. He graduated with a Masters in Psychology from Bowie State University in Bowie, Maryland and is the Board Chair for Cascade Writers, a non-profit dedicated to providing educational seminars and workshops for writers. Fang’s story continues in Fang and the Knife of Darkness, a novel going to beta readers in the summer of 2018. Learn more at http://www.tomdwright.com/