Pages

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Into the Fire: A Super Villain Academy short story by Kai Strand

Crime does pays and crime costs.

“Dogs? Dogs I got.” –Mystic from King of Bad
***

Source
“Stay!” Wilson yelled.

The whirring of helicopter blades approached the field. All sixty of his dogs sat in a circle around the outer edge of the field.

“Staaaay!” the man croaked again, always accompanying the verbal command with the hand signal.

Fur stirred as the helicopter descended. None of the dogs even looked at the copter overhead.

“Good.” Though he knew they could no longer hear him, the canines’ behavior encouraged Wilson.

Ears bent or flapped under the force of air and still not a single dog budged. Wilson was just about to curve his lips into a craggy smile, when seven of the dogs bolted.

“Ah!” He flapped his arms in frustration and yelled obscenities at the retreating dogs regardless of the fact he couldn’t be heard. The woman had specified she needed all of his dogs to tolerate a helicopter. She was paying him enough money for him to make sure all sixty complied.

He hobbled over to the copter, its twirling blades still pushing an excessive amount of air toward the grass. He stood next to the open door and, using hand signals, called each dog over. One at a time the dogs ran to the door, hopped into the craft and then back out again, returning to his or her place in the circle. All but those last seven who had retreated toward their kennels near the house.

By the time he’d made his way around the circle, the sun was beginning to set. He gave a thumbs-up to the helicopter pilot and limped toward the house as the craft lifted off. When he could finally hear his labored breathing instead of the thumping of the blades, he issued two short whistles to release the fifty-three dogs still sitting at attention. A cacophony of barking and yipping erupted behind him as the dogs fell into their usual happy canine frolicking.

God, he loved these animals.

His oldest and most loyal dog, Wingman, trotted up beside him. Wingman wasn’t the first dog he’d trained. Far from it, but he was currently the oldest in a long line of specially trained canines. Wingman pranced beside him, head and tail raised high, his graying black muzzle opened with a pleased grin, knowing it had been a good training day.

“We need to bring those last seven pups along, Wingman, old boy.” Wilson scratched the dog’s forehead as they walked. “Will you help me?”

Wingman’s only response was to let his tongue loll lazily out of the side of his mouth.

“How are we gonna do that?” The stooped, old man patted Wingman on the forehead before hobbling up the hill to the house. The young dogs that had deserted their post sat in a line at the top of the hill, no doubt waiting to slobber their apologies all over Wilson when he got up there.

“I’m running out of time,” Wilson huffed to himself. “How am I going to break these dogs in a week?”

Wilson thought back to the most difficult dog he’d ever trained. A hound mix with a thick skull. Nothing resembling sense made it into that noggin’. Not without a fight. He’d been about to give up on the dog completely and drop him off at the pound when a fire broke out in the kennels. That dog had employed every single trick and agility Wilson had taught him to break the rest of the dogs out of their kennels. He’d single-handedly—or single-pawedly—saved all forty-five dogs in the kennels that day. The next day the danged mutt went right back to completely ignoring commands. But anytime he was out on assignment, he was an ace performer. First dog on the scene. Fastest in the pack.

Grunting with the effort to limp uphill, Wilson eyed the line of deserters again. Maybe it was time to throw them into the fire – per se.

After feeding the dogs and performing the never-ending task of picking up poop, Wilson selected twelve dogs to spend the night in the house. He always took twelve dogs inside with him. Settled in his favorite leather armchair, with his feet propped on a footstool and his dogs reclining around him, Wilson sent a quick email to the helicopter pilot asking him to bring the Black Hawk the next day. Wilson was going to need something big.

In the morning, Wilson fed the seven troublemakers in their kennels. Twenty minutes after they ate, he let each one out so he or she could do his or her business, then put them back in their kennels. The littlest one, an American Bulldog name Trixie, was already staggering. Wilson gave her a good scratch before closing her inside. “You just take a little nap, Trix.”

He didn’t like to dope his dogs, and in a case like this kept the dosage very light. But he couldn’t have the dogs panicking and hurting themselves, so it was easiest to make sure that when things got going, they just didn’t care what was happening.

When the pilot arrived with the big Black Hawk, Wilson asked him to turn off the rotor. Once the craft was quiet, he loaded the seven kennels, occupied by drowsy dogs into the helicopter, then climbed aboard and sat next to the pilot.

“Okay, let’s take them up.”

The pilot’s mouth was pinched with concern. “You’re not gonna toss them out or anything are you?”

“No, of course not. But if we don’t get in the air before they start coming around, my plan will be ruined, so let’s get this thing up.”

The pilot handed Wilson a headset to wear. When the rotor started spinning, Wilson understood why and secured the noise canceling headphones over his ears.

The pilot’s voice was clear as a bell through them. “Looks like you’ve got some jittery ones back there.”

“Yep, but it won’t last forever,” Wilson replied.

The pilot reached over and pulled a microphone down until it sat flush with Wilson’s mouth.

“Oh, sorry ‘bout that.” Wilson chuckled and then repeated his original reply.

The pounding noise of the helicopter pulled the dogs out of their stupors. A couple dogs sat up straighter with their ears alert. Most jumped to their feet and wobbled with each shift in direction the chopper made. Whenever Wilson saw a dog bark he made the hand gesture for them to quiet. At first he must have looked like a man afflicted with palsy—his hand was flopping around so much—but eventually the dogs stopped. After a while all dogs even laid down. A few rested their chins on their paws and dozed.

Wilson turned a pleased grin on the pilot. “I think we can land again. Keep the rotor on though while I let the dogs out.”

The pilot nodded and banked toward the large grass field behind the big stone house.

Wilson let those seven dogs spend the night inside. Each dog had made him proud by jumping fearlessly out of the helicopter, retreating to the ‘circle’ and sitting at attention until he had released them long after the helicopter left.

All sixty dogs were finally ready. For what, he had no idea. His business was training special ops dogs. What people did with the dogs when they were out on contract was none of his business. As long as the dogs didn’t get hurt. Most important was that they came back alive.

Thinking of the sum of money the woman was going to hand him when she showed up made him feel twenty years old again. He cackled giddily. Wingman, who was curled next to him, sat up and rested his chin on the arm of the chair.

Scratching between the dog’s eyes, Wilson wheezed. “We’ll be able to retire, old boy. I’ll finally be able to repair this drafty old manor and still afford to feed all of you for the rest of our lives.”

Wingman huffed and licked his lip.

“You would’ve been proud of them, Winger. The seven did good work today. I threw them into the fire and they all came out of it all right. Almost as good as that old hound. You woulda liked working with him. He coulda been your general.”

Wingman sighed and lay back down again. Wilson dreamed of spending the rest of his days just like that. Him tucked under a flannel blanket, Wingman content at his side. Yep, one last gig.

Six days later, an impossibly tall, unreasonably gorgeous, young woman showed up to collect the dogs. Wilson was as impressed with her set up as he was with her. There were a dozen non-descript black vans with two handlers per van. After a short lesson in the basic hand signals, the dogs were loaded into clean kennels.

“I’ll have them returned to you by the weekend.” The young woman handed over a box filled with cash. “I put in some extra for your discretion.”

“Discretion is all a part of it girly.” Wilson all but drooled on the box. But then a burst of fear erupted inside his mind. It disappeared as quickly as it came, but it scared the day lights out of him nonetheless.

“Girly?” The girl’s voice was a lit fuse and she was the bomb. “Don’t be so derogatory.”

“Okay.” Wilson nodded. “My apologies.”

He wasn’t even sure what he was apologizing for, but the young woman was terrifying when she was angry; sharp angles and shadows and harshness. Her anger dropped away and once again she was stunning. Wilson blinked. Maybe he’d imagined the transformation.

He spent the next three days roaming around his huge, quiet house. He cleaned the kennels every day, even though he didn’t need to. He bleached the concrete pad the dogs used as a latrine, and hosed it down over and over again until even he could have eaten off of it.

He was never so happy as when the twelve black vans drove up his long driveway. He hobbled out onto the front porch and waited as the handlers let the dogs out of the vans. The dogs looked good. Healthy. Happy as ever. Except…?

Wilson lumbered down the steps, his gaze sweeping over the dogs. They were moving too fast for him to get a head count, but…

“Where’s Wingman?” he asked the nearest handler.

The man turned toward Wilson. “There were three casualties. The young lady extends her most sincere apologies and assures you she did her best to protect the dogs. They went out honorably.” He handed Wilson a large manila envelope. “Though it will not replace your dogs, the young lady hopes it will help ease your suffering.”

Within minutes, the vans rolled down his driveway and disappeared around the corner. Wilson collapsed onto the steps; tears leaking down his face, a wail of pain escaping his mouth. His fifty-seven dogs gamboling around him like a pack of puppies.

But the most important dog, his favorite dog, Wingman, was never to return again.
***

This story is a supplemental short story to Kai's Super Villain Academy series. It takes place between King of Bad and Polar Opposites. Kai will be making an exciting announcement regarding King of Bad soon. Join her mailing list so you don't miss out.

***
When her children were young and the electricity winked out, Kai Strand gathered her family around the fireplace and they told stories, one sentence at a time. Her boys were rather fond of the ending, “And then everybody died. The end.” Now an award winning children’s author, Kai crafts fiction for kids and teens to provide an escape hatch from their reality. With a selection of novels for young adult and middle grade readers and a short story blog, Lightning Quick Reads, Kai entertains children of all ages, and their adults. Learn more about Kai and her books on her website, www.kaistrand.com.