- Everyone Should Have A Mutt! -



Chapter 1

"The Mutt"

He jolted to consciousness with a grunt of pain when the wheels of the gurney flipped down as he was being lifted out of the ambulance. He was vaguely aware of a sense of urgency when ceiling lights along the corridor above him whipped past in a blur of motion. Everything else seemed lost in a dreamy sensation of calliope music and merry-go-round animals he remembered seeing on the mall in Washington D. C. when he was a kid.

The illusion of flying through the air on a red merry-go-round horse stole his equilibrium and sent him reeling end over end until his imagination encompassed all the creatures gathered on the whirling platform around him. A green elephant with plumes on its head lumbered behind him; a yellow lion under a blue saddle on his right; and on his left a very large, brown dog with haunted eyes.

When the music stopped abruptly, the red horse beneath him stumbled and fell out of the sky … and all the other lovely animals around him, crashing, plowing up puffy tendrils of storm clouds that rained down all around them.

And then all was silent.

He saw nothing, felt nothing; heard nothing more, except perhaps the faint panting of a dog, far away to his left.

After that, the painkillers took away all feeling, and he knew no more for a very long time.

Dr. Eric Foreman's voice, laced with an undercurrent of bafflement, carried across the intervening space to Dr. James Wilson. They both ran alongside the speeding gurney as it careened down the corridor to the hospital's trauma center.

"Did we hear him right? Did he actually say he wanted somebody to pick up that mutt and bring it along?"

"That's what I heard him say." Wilson conceded. "He said: 'Bring the mutt!'"

"He was delirious! Out of his head with pain!"

Wilson shook his head and quickened his pace as the gurney turned the corner. "Don't you bet on it! Not for a minute!"

In a field choked with briars and scrub grasses, halfway between the Jersey Pike and Skunk Hollow Road, a dilapidated Dodge van squatted among the jutting tufts of dead milkweed and alfalfa stubble.

At the back of the van, both rear doors hung open and a young man in a tan police uniform poked around through an accumulated pile of junk, looking for a long pole with a noose on the end. He finally found one end of it, but had to haul the rest of its length upward, and untangle the rope from a mass of clinging debris. He knew his boss, the Chief, was waiting for him impatiently down the road by the culvert, standing there tossing chunks of beef jerky, one at a time, to a mangy mutt which refused to come out of the tunnel.

No amount of coaxing or cajoling had moved the large, scruffy brown mongrel out from its sanctuary deep within the safety of the culvert's entrance. The two men's overtures only earned them more deep-throated growls and a curled lip every time they ventured closer. The dog did not know they were intent on rescue and not harm. It held them off in the only way it knew how. The only thing keeping it anywhere near the vicinity was the continuous tossing of food by the human, which it chomped greedily as fast as it hit the ground. But the jerky would not last forever. The level of pieces remaining in the plastic bag was going down steadily.

Chief Khan Noonian Singh looked back over his shoulder toward the old Dodge van, willing his young deputy to move his ass and get back here so they could scoop up the mutt and hit the road to the office of the nearest vet. Already, Konnie had cause to regret his promise to the two young doctors who had approached him with the request to make every effort to bring in the nearly wild animal and restrain it.

The badly injured man they'd finally located at the bottom of the culvert had had something to do with the request, Konnie felt certain. The disappearance of Dr. Gregory House after a tragic automobile accident on the Pike had auxiliary police combing the vicinity for nearly forty eight hours afterward without success. How in hell the doctor had managed to get this far from the crash scene with such severe injuries and a physical disability, was a mystery for which the Chief did not care to hazard a guess.

The fact that Chief Singh had been the one to find Dr. House, was not due to super sleuthing on his part, but rather to the fiercely protective growl of that damned dog as he approached the lip of the culvert. Only the lure of food being thrown at the starving animal had pulled it away from the injured doctor's side and allowed the ambulance crew to get in there to stabilize House's broken hand, lacerated leg and other trauma.

Shortly before the ambulance pulled away from the field, its attending physicians had approached him with the strange request that he try to capture the dog and take it to the nearest veterinarian. Skeptically, Konnie had agreed, though for the life of him, he could not, at this moment, figure out why.

And so, here they were. The two of them. Standing there looking down into the shadows of the Skunk Hollow culvert; he with an empty plastic bag, and his deputy with a long aluminum pole with a noose on the end, trying to figure out how to subdue a snarling wild dog which was probably powerful enough and frightened enough to take both their heads off at the neck!

Konnie sighed heavily and looked across at Andy Alta expectantly. "I want you to circle around to the other end of the culvert," he said. "Make enough commotion so the mutt knows you're there. Let me have the pole, and I'll go in from this end. All you gotta do is close in on him and force him to come closer to me. I'll lasso his ass and we'll stuff him in the back of the van and take him to Bernie Baumberger's clinic."

Alta stared at his boss dubiously for a moment. He was anything but enthusiastic about entering the mouth of the filthy culvert, contaminated with God-only-knew-what detritus of the human condition. Still, Chief Singh usually knew what he was doing, and Alta trusted him to be right this time as well. With raised eyebrows he shifted his gaze until he met his boss' expectant stare. Then he handed the pole across. Konnie accepted it with a twinkle in his eyes and gestured to the other side of the road with a lift of his chin and a tolerant grin. Andy Alta pursed his lips, turned on his heel and walked off in the opposite direction.

Chief Singh grasped the tethering pole tightly in his fist and started cautiously down the embankment to the entrance of the culvert. Flat on the ground near the crumbling terra cotta conduit pipe, he stooped to check out the other end where a circle of light indicated the spot where it opened at the other side of the road. The big brown dog curled its lip and backed away further into the dim interior where sunlight did not reach.

At the other end of the culvert a disturbance in the day's glow and a slightly blurred movement indicated that Alta had indeed reached his position, blocking the dog's only other exit. Holding the pole in front of him, Konnie advanced cautiously.

The dog was not a stupid creature in the fact that it knew it was trapped. Instantly it went into fight-or-flight mode, curled its lip threateningly over strong yellow teeth and began to growl menacingly.

Konnie spoke in a soothing manner, keeping his voice low and even. "C'mon, boy … I'm not gonna hurt you …" It was a litany he'd heard a thousand times by anybody who ever approached a strange animal. He knew it was bullshit, and so did the dog. The mutt backed away further into the dimness of the culvert, further blending into its surroundings where it was getting more and more difficult to see.

Konnie called across to Alta. "Move toward me, Andy … force the mutt to come back this way where I can see him better!"

"Coming …" came the distant reply.

The image at the other end of the culvert moved again, gradually closing off the small amount of daylight that had reflected inward, and blocking off the opposite side of the road from any view of it the chief might have had before. The dog was right there though. Close by. He could hear it breathing, could hear the low growl that continued to emanate deep from the animal's throat.

The dog realized it was being approached from the other end. There was a nervous movement of its body, and its paws scratched among the dead grasses and dry leaves as its panic rose along with the desperation to get away. Konnie stood poised with the tethering pole in his hands, waiting for the dog to make a move.

And then it came. With a yip of panic, the dog broke suddenly in the chief's direction, attempting to squeeze between the human with the frightening hitting device in its hands and the side of the culvert. Konnie saw the blur of movement and dived in that direction. The dog was screaming now; yelping in strangled terror, scraping through the dirt and filth, leaping aside wildly in the attempt to escape.

Chief Singh went down on his elbows and knees on the cruddy culvert floor, still holding onto the pole and knowing his attempt had failed. The dog had gotten away, and now they would probably never catch it.

He would have to tell the two young doctors …

And then the rope at the end of the pole tightened, nearly ripping its length from his hands. He flung himself forward, grasping it tightly, hauling backward against the pull of the considerable weight at the opposite end.

In its blind desperation to be free, the dog had scrambled headlong into the noose at the end of the pole, and its weight and momentum had closed the loop around its neck until it was hopelessly entangled and completely unable to free itself. The more it struggled, the tighter became the noose, until it could no longer draw a breath, and it wilted onto the cold ground, helpless, trembling and gasping.

Andy Alta ran up to his boss' side and took the tether from him until Singh could haul himself to his feet and brush the crap off his uniform. "Nice goin', Chief! Looks like you got 'im!"

Konnie snorted with disgust. "Oh yeah … I got 'im all right! Freakin' mongrel! Hold 'im down, willya? … so I can loosen the noose before he chokes himself to death."

Alta complied, smiling to himself privately where his boss could not see. It sure looked like dog shit stains on the chief's knees and elbows. And from the look on Singh's face at that moment, it seemed as though he thought so as well.

They lifted the trembling, subdued animal into the rear compartment of the van … among the accumulation of debris and junk. Konnie then backed it slowly onto Skunk Hollow Road. Next stop: Bernie Baumberger's Veterinary Clinic.

It was a tedious ride. Both men sat in their seats with disgusted looks on their faces. Neither of them said a word, just squinted at each other apprehensively as, from time to time the body of the panicked dog ricocheted off the metal sides back there.

The whole van stank to high heaven!