Following a hunch, Crank Case sits in a coffee shop, after changing into civilian clothes to blend in, across from the building his team searched earlier in the day. His cell phone vibrates. It’s the tech from the lab reporting on the samples taken from the circles on the roof deck. “Go ahead,” he says.
“Sir, the samples read the same as the soil taken from the Hagg Lake incident.”
He’s referring to an incident where an object on radar entered the atmosphere and they tracked it to Oregon where it slowed considerably and put down west of Portland in the forest by Henry Hagg Lake. Case’s team were already in the area investigating an unrelated case and were wheels up in the helicopter in minutes. They flew into the forest and arrived on the scene in time to see the craft land. The craft was shaped like a large globe the size of a garbage truck. They put down, approached the craft on foot and had it surrounded within minutes. Case remembers thinking, finally some proof to show his superiors that he’s been right all these years and that he’s not the nut job his superiors think he is. But before they got close enough to board the craft, it disappeared right in front of them and all that was left were a pack of feral dogs that must’ve been drawn to the craft’s landing.
At least that was what he had assumed at the time when he wrote the report, but now he wonders. When has he known feral animals of any species to be drawn to vehicles of any sort? And then it strikes him, it was the dogs. They were what got off the craft before it disappeared. Or they could’ve been shapeshifters and chose an animal they knew he’d overlook and took its form. Arg, he thinks, they’re really going to call him nuts if he reports this theory.
Then he remembers the dog in the elevator that growled at him, and that smartass kid. Hmm. They could be more shapeshifters? What better form to take than a kid and a dog? They could walk anywhere and no one would pay them any attention. He ponders the possibilities, knowing it could lead madness if left unchecked.
Crank Case grips his phone excitedly. “Exactly the same?” he asks the tech.
Something landed on that roof deck, and something got out of what landed, he concludes. But did it get back on before disappearing, or stay behind? “Good work. Send the Hagg Lake file to my phone, would you?” he says and disconnects.
When it comes to theories about what’s really going on in the world, it’s a thin line between being bat guano paranoid and being right, he thinks and sips his coffee while continuing to keep watch on the building’s entrance across the street.
* * *
Half a block from the coffee shop a fawn pug dressed smartly in a turquoise vest with matching harness, leash, and booties drags his owner to the nearest curbside tree to lift his leg, all the while keeping his bug-eyed gaze on the front windows of the coffee shop. Crank Case’s outline is clearly visible in the plate-glass window, even without his uniform on he’s easily recognizable by the silhouette of his hawkish nose, especially to a dog from planet Dog.
On the other side of the street, an all black German shepherd drags his owner to the nearest red fire hydrant and begins his long, drawn out process of sniffing the metal for new scents while keeping a close watch on the human beak in the window across the street.
The pug sees the shepherd and gives him a quick upward jerk of his chin in acknowledgment, nothing obvious his owner might notice, just a subtle movement only another dog with his motion sensitive eyes could notice, and the shepherd responds in kind. Between the two of them, the pug thinks, Crank Case isn’t going anywhere without a tail.
* * *
“Quick, hide the dog,” Walt says. “Get under the bed.”
But it’s too late. The door opens and their mom stands there gazing down at the bundle of fur and dander. She looks about to launch into an angry interrogation of the boys as to why a dog is in their room when the dog sidles up to her and rolls onto his back at her feet. He wriggles his body and wags his tail and moos for attention, then nuzzles her bare ankle with his prickly wet snout.
“Ooo, that tickles,” she says, lifting her foot, then squats down and rubs the dog’s belly. “Aren’t you a friendly dog.”
He moos some more and lays still for her.
She stops petting him, looks at the boys and says, “Okay, tell me what’s going on.”
“It’s the janitor’s dog,” Peanut says. “He asked us to look after him for a while.”
Walt clears his throat. “Actually the dog belongs to his aging mother and he’s caring for him. He was at a loss as to what to do with him since he didn’t want to leave him all alone at home.”
“Especially so soon after being re-homed with him,” Peanut says.
Their mom smirks at their story. “You know, I might buy all that bull if I didn’t already know that Stanley’s mother was abducted by aliens years ago and hasn’t been seen since.”
She’s very matter-of-fact. Peanut had to get his lying skills from somewhere. “Huh?” he says. “That’s so cool. Aliens? Really?”
“No, honey, I’m feeding you a story. Now tell me what’s really going on.” She looks at Otto. “Well?”
“You’re not going to believe this but his planet is in trouble and the government is after him. He needs our help?”
She shakes her head at him. “I was really hoping you’d skip the lying phase growing up, but I guess that was asking too much given the cards you’ve been dealt for brothers,” she says the last bit with quick glances at Peanut and Walt. “Leading by example, eh boys?”
“I’m not lying, Mom,” Otto says, looking at the dog and hoping he’ll say something to show he isn’t.
Instead the dog moos for more belly rubs and attention while covertly giving Otto a wink. Their mom starts petting him again and says, “You boys sort it out. Just as long as you haven’t stolen him from someone. I draw the line at dog rustling. You know, it wasn’t long ago that they used to hang horse thieves in this country.”
They all shake their heads. No, they didn’t steal him.
“Alright then.” She stops petting the dog and stands to go. “I’m going to the grocery store. Do I need to pick up a small bag of dog food while I’m there?”
The dog sits up, gives me another wink and shakes his head, no.
“No, Mom, we got it covered,” Otto says.
When she leaves, the dog says, “Like I’m going to eat those cardboard kibble clusters you feed pet dogs on this planet. I’m more interested in learning just how holy cows are.”