Happy Holidays Team Red readers. I hope you enjoy this holiday stocking stuffer–a short story from Red’s point of view (PoV)
Can you hear me now?
Copyright © December 2021 by T. Hammond
Editor: Tara Shaner, Shaner Media Creations
All rights reserved by the author. No part of this story may be reproduced or transmitted in any form without or by any means, graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, taping, or other information storage or retrieval system without the express written consent of the author.
This story contains no adult situations, themes, or explicit sexual content.
This Team Red stocking stuffer is a work of fiction—a narrating dog should be your first clue.
It’s been a perfect spring for German shepherds with plenty of sunny weather, although Tony sure complains a lot about the forty-degree temperatures in the morning. Light weight.
I’m Red, or Top Dog when I’m on assignment. My nose is super-sensitive so I smell stuff that humans can’t, which makes me valuable to the local police department when they review case evidence. My nose also comes in handy when Teresa is searching for Ken’s cookie stash. My people miss out on lots of interesting scents.
Since humans chat freely around (and to) animals, I can get up close and personal to learn things they’d rather be kept secret. Sometimes the words people use don’t match what their body is saying. Teresa is special because she’s the only one who can hear my thoughts and she helps me sort out what’s happening. Together we are a good team.
** Morning after breakfast but before lunch, Monday—April, I think **
I step out onto the deck and scan my yard.
Nah, just kidding. It’s supposed to be funny to say, but I’m not sure why. Ken and Teresa say it about Janey all the time. Bas tells me it’s a joke, a cliché. No matter how much he tries to explain why it’s funny, I’m still as confused as the first time I heard them laugh about it in the kitchen. I mean, first, we were inside the house, so there are no squirrels—I’d know because I check boundaries as soon as I wake up in the morning. Are they implying I didn’t do my job? Second, what’s so funny about squirrels? Yeah, they have those fat bodies with skinny legs, and they make obnoxious noises, but they’re no worse than cats. Actually, nothing is worse than cats.
Teresa and I sat through a sign language video this morning. We already know a lot of it, but Gil says the redundancy helps to reinforce the lessons. He learned ASL when he was a kid ‘cuz his dad is deaf. I learned to read the most important signs first: chicken, steak, bacon, and marshmallow.
I’m on my own for the rest of the morning. Peanut is being feisty, so Teresa wants to lie down close to the bathroom in case she spews her breakfast. She’s been doing that a lot lately, but Doc says it’s nothing to be alarmed about because her pregnancy is progressing nicely. I could have told him that—the nose knows.
Teresa complains that’s easy for Doc to say when he’s not a slave to the throne. I’m pretty sure a throne is the toilet, but no one has explained why it’s a throne when you’re barfing into it but not when sitting on it. But then some of the guys call it “hitting the head,” which is even more confusing. No one ever hits it, and it looks nothing like a head. Doesn’t smell like one either.
Yeah, people don’t make sense a lot of times.
Q, short for Quinn Sparks, is PreClan’s new hardware tech. David and Bas hired her for her specialization in micro-miniature electronics. She’s on loan to Team Red ‘cuz (according to Dex) Teresa’s sleeping with the boss. Q has been experimenting with itsy-bitsy wireless earbuds so I can receive instructions from Team Red members and Mustangs when we’re in the field. Gil says an earpiece, a way to communicate over distances, would have made the Tahoe avalanche rescue easier and safer for everyone. Sign language is fine and dandy, but I’m eager to have something more subtle and accurate when we’re not face-to-face.
Her first prototype lasted less than five minutes. Hey, don’t blame me! When a dog’s gotta scratch an ear, sometimes you lose a device to the ecstasy of the moment. Not unlike launching for low-flying drones. I lost the second one somewhere in the woods playing hide-and-seek with Tank and Wes. Okay, I admit, the glue irritated my ear so I may have been a tad rough when I scratched my head against that blue spruce. Q thinks I had an adverse reaction to something in the adhesive, so the third prototype used a natural gum-type cement. That one almost immediately slipped down my ear canal and it took a few great headshakes to dislodge it.
The latest model, number eight, is doing okay for two days now. The reception isn’t ideal—Teresa says the noise I’m hearing is “tinny”—but Q has explained it’s a cheap earpiece. For now, she’s focusing on the fit. Finding a shape and material that isn’t easily dislodged. After Q sorts that out we’ll work on improving the receiver quality.
I lift my head to breathe in the outdoor scents: pine, squirrel, deer, moose, raccoon, gun metal, some of the Wild Horse security guys, water…ah, there it is—Tank and Wes. I sprint through the trees, past the Wild Horse compound toward the newer property PreClan purchased to enlarge our territory. There aren’t many security cameras mounted in this area, so those two are gonna be in trouble when David finds out Wes is wandering in a restricted area. I’m allowed out here ‘cuz it’s part of my perimeter. Everyone understands German shepherds are compelled to secure the boundaries around our people.
Scratchy static crackles in my ear telling me I’ve reached the limit of the earbud’s range. It tickles. I paw the side of my head but resist the urge to dig out the irritation because I’m a good boy.
I can still communicate with Teresa if I need to. I stop briefly to investigate a pile of leaves with an interesting smell. With a couple nudges, I uncover the remains of a mangled, decomposing chipmunk. By the looks of it, and the surrounding odors, the cat has been hunting in my woods again. Teresa likes chipmunks, so I’ll skip this disclosure on my lunchtime perimeter report. I’m tempted to track the intruder, but with Wes wandering in areas he shouldn’t be, he’s my priority.
I’m entering the west sector, as the Mustangs refer to it, following a combination of sneaker tracks and puppy urine along the Little Spokane River embankment. Wes approached the steep drop-off too closely a couple times, probably so he could check the water level. Temperatures are still too cold for snow melt, so I can see the rocky, shallow bottom in most places. In another month or so, as the weather warms and the river rises, people will float by in kayaks, canoes, and inflatables.
I continue tracking, avoiding the distractions of marmot and skunk trails. Teresa has cautioned us about skunks. I hope Tank heeds her warning.
“Hey, Red.” Double D’s voice is a staticky broken-up noise in my left ear. “Where…you…buddy? Can’t…the…—amaras.”
Time to chat with the boss. “Teresa, Double D’s trying to hail me, but I’m out of earpiece range in the west sector following Wes and Tank’s scents. I’m planning to bring them back into the secured area.”
Teresa’s upstairs, so it may take her a few minutes to inform Double D of my status.
I lift my head and swivel my ears in the general direction of my quarry. I hear them up ahead. Wes is having a rambling conversation with my brother, Tank, who’s tromping through the brush like a buffalo. Stealthy, he’s not. I don’t need my nose anymore, so I increase my gait and soon spot the duo up ahead. I bark to catch their attention.
Wes stops abruptly and looks my way with a broad smile. “Late start? Teresa not with you? Puking, no doubt. Peanut better be worth it or she’ll end up an only child. Dad says men are wimps when it comes to being sick, and it’s a good thing men don’t have babies because humans would have died out long ago.”
“Red, can you hear me now? Bas boosted the antenna power to increase range.” Double D’s voice comes through loudly with a jarring, tinny echo.
“Teresa, I can hear Double D. I found Wes and Tank. They’re fine, but they’ve wandered a long way from—Oopsie!” I glance over toward the puppy just in time to see his hindquarters disappear over the edge.
“Okay bud, you just freaked Teresa out. What’s going on?” Double D’s tone has a hint of panic, a phenomenon I’ve noticed with increasing regularity since Teresa and Bas announced her pregnancy. No one wants to upset the mama-to-be.
“I can go lights on, Teresa, but sit down first so you don’t get dizzy.”
Wes finally notices Tank is gone and, following the pup’s pitiful whine, steps toward the river to look down. I force my body between him and the steep edge, pushing him away from potential disaster.
“Tank slipped over the embankment. He doesn’t sound hurt, but he’s scared.” Keeping an ear flicked in Wesley’s direction to make sure he stays put, I glance over the side. “It’s steep, but not too far to the water.”
“She’s ready for lights on, bud.” Double D is back to his usual, calm self.
I flip the mental switch connecting me to Teresa, sharing my sight with her.
Smelling worried, Wes has shuffled forward again, so I herd him back, bumping my body against his legs until he is safely away. I growl a warning at him.
Wes glares and crosses his arms with all the pre-teen belligerence he can muster. He knows he’s in the wrong.
If only dogs could roll their eyes. I settle for huffing at him.
I approach the riverbank again, swiveling my head toward Wes to let him know I’m watching.
“Teresa, Tank’s within reach, but the security team should bring a rope in case he slides further before they get here.” I scan the river below as far as I can see in both directions to give Teresa a visual of where we are. Another side-glance at Wes assures me he’s standing where I left him.
Hours later—okay, maybe only five minutes but that feels like forever in dog-time—two quad motors announce the arrival of reinforcements. I lift my snout and test the air. Spook and Grizzz.
They halt by the embankment and look over to see what they’re up against.
Wes interprets their presence as permission to approach closer. I bump him back and give another warning growl, this time with teeth showing.
“I’m telling Dad you snarled at me,” Wes complains.
Grizzz snickers. “Before or after you tell him you ventured into a restricted area?”
“And lost Tank down the side of a cliff?” Spook adds.
Wes frowns, folding his arms in sullen silence. Again. My nose says his initial fear has become embarrassment.
Grizzz unhooks her bullwhip from her belt. She’s really accurate with it and has driven off more than one coyote with a snap to their butts. I don’t think she actually connects with it, but the cracking sound is startling. Not unlike a gunshot. If only I had thumbs, I could use it for cats. Teresa would let me if I told her about the chipmunk. Maybe.
Spook grasps the handle and braces his legs while leaning back against the quad as Grizzz wraps the thin tail around her wrist and repels down to Tank.
I hear her soothing tone as she scoops up the pup.
When she calls that she’s got him, Spook starts pulling them, hand over hand up the ridge. I run forward to help by pulling on the whip too. The leather is soft in my teeth, so I can get a good grip. Shepherds are good at pulling games.
Once Tank is on firm ground, I check him over and report his healthy condition to Teresa. “He’s fine, Beautiful. We’ll head back now.”
The pup is excited to be rescued and twirls in circles.
I look down at the river. “Tank picked the perfect place to fall. It’s a short drop and easy to get—”
Now I’m over the edge, a casualty of Tank’s enthusiastic spinning. Unlike my smaller, younger brother, I slide all the way down and land with a splash in the river. I can stand easily so I give myself a vigorous, full-body shake.
There’s a gurgling in my ear—on the upside, the tinny sound is gone.
“I’m fine, Teresa, but you might want to tell Q the earbuds ought to be waterproof. I didn’t lose this one, but it’s dead.
“Grizzz is shaking her head. She says she’s going to get the rope to haul my ‘furry butt’ out because I’m too heavy to carry, and I fell further than Tank. I’ll be home in a bit. Lights out.”
I wonder how long my next receiver will last?