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BLUE HORIZON, BOOK 4

— Episode 31

"Day One, Day Lost"
by Ted R. Blasingame

 

Merlin Sinclair opened the door of polished wood into the office of Blue Horizon Freight Transfer and walked inside to the sound of tiny bells. The room surrounded him with dark woodwork that made up built-in bookcases, accent tables and corner trim. The floor was polished wood with a large, intricate rug from Sillon in the center of the room. Save for a single table lamp in the corner near the door, the rest of the lighting was hidden and indirect, and a large fireplace dominated one wall. The front room was spacious, though the art deco motif of the place had always given him an odd feeling every time he walked through the door. It had started out with a rustic look in the beginning, but Cindy and Keri had since made interior design changes to the look of the small building after the pirate crew of the Basilisk had trashed the place in an attempt to thwart his business.

With an unbidden smirk at the interior decor, he wondered if he should buy a fedora, now that he no longer wore a captain’s hat. No, he thought with silent chuckle. It wouldn’t go with his suit.

Penny looked up from a crossword puzzle when Merlin closed the door behind him. The corner of the ferret’s mouth crooked up in a pleasant smile when he approached her desk.

“Welcome back, sir,” she said in a rush. “Are you ready for your first day at the office?”

The wolf snickered. “This could be different,” he admitted. “I’m not used to being stationary on the ground for long periods of time. However, please don’t…”

“Please don’t call you Sir, yes, I know,” Penny interrupted, “but you are no longer a captain and we can’t call you that anymore. You’re now the president of a company, so you should be prepared for everyone to address you with the associated title of respect.”  She folded her hands together on top of the desk and stared up at him with a tilt to her head.

Merlin opened his mouth to argue, and then shut it again. He raised an eyebrow at her and then nodded. “I suppose you’re right,” he said.

“Good morning, sir,” said another voice. Merlin and Penny looked up in unison at a sharply dressed white wolf.

“See?” Penny chirped. “You’ll be getting that from now on.”

“Right,” Merlin replied with a smirk.  “Good morning, Ms. Winters.”

“You may call me Tina, if you wish,” the woman said with a pleasant smile. “I tried formalities when I first came to this office, but the girls wouldn’t let me get away with that. However, I will leave it up to you how you wish to address me.”

“What is your personal preference?” Merlin asked.

“In a work environment, I have always aspired for professional appearance, but away from the office, I am comfortable with informality.”

Merlin sighed inwardly. “Well, then, Ms. Winters,” he said after a moment, “I’ll try to maintain your standards.”

“Thank you, sir.”

The front door opened to jingling bells again behind him. Merlin turned to see a large mastiff in denim jeans and a matching shirt with the sleeves rolled up past his elbows walk inside the office. He carried a box under one arm and shut the door behind him.

“Hi there,” the canine said with a broad grin.

“Good Morning,” Merlin said. It was the job of his receptionist to greet newcomers, but he was not yet used to the office routine. “Can we help you?”

Penny snickered and the mastiff walked toward them looking puzzled. “I brought breakfast from Mrs. Meers for the girls,” the canine said as he set the cardboard box on the ferret’s heavy wooden desk. He looked at Tina with a critical eye and asked, “Is this guy bothering you ladies?”

Penny snickered again and pulled a cup of steaming coffee from a carrier inside the box. “Stu, you’re silly,” she said. “That’s your boss.”

“Captain Sinclair?”

The wolf raised his eyebrows and held out his hand. “A captain no longer, but yes, I am Merlin Sinclair.”

“Pleased to meetcha, boss,” the mastiff replied. He took the wolf’s hand and shook it vigorously. “I’m Stuart Sloan, daytime security for your office, sir.”

Before Merlin could give the canine a reply, the front door opened yet again. Two mice stepped inside, one brown and the other gray.

Cindy’s face widened in a big grin and the gray mouse ran over to the wolf happily. “It’s great to see you again, Merlin!” she said as she gave him a warm hug.

“Hello, Cindy,” the wolf said with a laugh. He looked over at the brown mouse and gave her a pleasant smile.  “Hello, Keri.”

“Welcome back, sir,” Keri replied with a grin.

“See?” Penny piped up merrily, “You’re getting more of them!”

“Yes, I got the point,” Merlin said with a sigh directed at the ferret.

“What are you getting?” Cindy asked curiously.

“People calling him Sir,” replied the receptionist.

“Ah yes, I forgot that you didn’t like that,” the gray mouse said.

Merlin waved a hand through the air. “It’s okay,” he said with a look around the small group that was gathered in the large reception room. “I’ll get used to it.”

“You don’t like being called Sir?” Stuart inquired.

The wolf simply smiled. “It reminds me of my military days, but I’ll get used to it,” he said again.

“How’s Sam doing?” Cindy asked as Stuart passed around the breakfast items he’d brought. The mastiff took his coffee and a cinnamon roll to a seat near the fireplace and sat down to eat it quietly.

The wolf perked up at Cindy’s question and grinned. “She’s happy as a puppy,” he said. “We’ve spent the past two weeks with Bill, Shannon and the kids, but we’ve also been looking for a house of our own. We had it narrowed down to three, but each had hidden storm damage that I discovered while giving each of the places a close inspection.”

“Most people wouldn’t think to look that closely,” Stuart remarked.

“I’ve lived on a ship out between the stars for the past ten years,” Merlin reminded him. “Looking at everything closely to make sure there are no leaks or malfunctioning life-support systems is rather ingrained in me. Something potentially wrong can often be a life or death situation out in space.”

“Good point.”

“It’s not as critical on the ground, but it’s still a habit.  Shannon and Samantha will be looking at a couple more houses today, but I thought I should make an appearance here at the office and try to get settled into my new position.”

“How can we get you started?” Keri asked.

Merlin looked around at the faces that surrounded him. “First, I’ll need someone to show me to my desk. I know I’ve been here in the past during the Blue Horizon’s stops in the area, but I’ve not really spent any time in this building – especially if you’ve moved things around to accommodate me.”

“That’s easy,” Cindy replied. “Keri and I took the largest office and split it up between the two of us, packed it with our desks and equipment. I set you up in the office near the back, across the hall from Tina’s office. It’s not a large room, but Tina authorized new furniture for you and had the room soundproofed so you can have private conversations as needed.”

“That sounds good,” the wolf replied. “Once I’ve had a few moments to get myself oriented, I want to meet with each of you in my new den separately. I have a few business details to discuss one on one, and I’ll invite each of you to talk with me openly then if you have any gripes or suggestions.”    

*** 

Merlin leaned back in his high-backed chair and stretched. He’d gotten no real work done that morning, but had spent the greater part of the time simply talking with each of his office employees, including the contracted security guard, Stuart. He would have to chat with the nighttime security guard, Bob Robinson at a later time.

For the most part, everyone got along well enough to do their jobs, but it seemed that each person had some trivial nit-picking against their co-workers. It was no more unusual than any other work environment, but there was nothing he suspected that would indicate potential trouble down the line. However, while no one specifically came out to say anything, the home office had been self-sufficient since it had been created, and he got the impression that he was considered merely a figurehead without any real purpose at the location.

It was only a notion without proof, but it frustrated him. Had he done the right thing by giving up his ship? Yes, he mused after a moment of thought. Even after he’d set the home office in operation, there were things he had continued to take care of behind the scenes that the others never saw. For a while, at least, he supposed it would appear that he had no need setting up in the home office, but he planned to get into his duties as quickly as possible.

Samantha’s talents, on the other hand, were another matter. The duties she performed on board the ship were redundant here, so there was no reason to set her up with a desk in the office. They had discussed the possibility of opening up a small consulting office of her own for computer services, but Bill had pointed out that Holden Pharmaceutical’s Dennier Branch would be more appropriate since she was still the primary shareholder of her father’s company. It was located in one of the city’s downtown skyscrapers not far from the Blue Horizon headquarters. Merlin had agreed with his brother-in-law and Samantha had acquiesced to the notion, but they would not pursue that course of action until they had settled into their own home.

Merlin stretched again and looked up at the ceiling, wishing his new den had a window or at least a skylight to let in the sunshine from outside. He straightened up in his chair with a wry smile. If anyone came into his den and found him leaning back in his chair, he really would present the image of someone without anything to do. Perhaps he should work with his door open so the others would see him working – when he actually started had something to do, that is.

Merlin snorted. When had he ever been concerned with the opinions of others regarding his position as head of his own company? Just because he was no longer on board the deck of the Blue Horizon, he didn’t feel he should be obliged to adopt a different way of thinking just to please others.

A moment later, there was a knock on his door.  “Come in, please,” he said as he picked up a slateboard from his desk. He pretended to study it when Cindy opened the door and walked inside.

“Hi, Cindy, what can I do for you?” he asked.

The gray mouse sat down on the corner of the desk with another slateboard in her hands. “You wanted a report on the status of the ships, sir.”

“Sit in the chair, Cindy, not on my desk.”

“Oh, right!” she said with a grin. The business coordinator sat down in the plush seat in front of the desk and then nodded as she consulted her slateboard over her lap. “The Blue Horizon made an unscheduled stop on Tanthe two days ago, but is now on its way to Kantus to pick up a shipment of textiles for delivery to Fiddlestone on Alexandrius. The cargo hold is empty, since they didn’t pick up anything on Tanthe.”

Merlin nodded, fully aware of the purpose of the stop in Aris Grand. “Continue,” he prompted. Cindy nodded and tapped out a command on her datapak.

“The Hidalgo Sun is currently en route to Osaka, Japan on Earth, where they are scheduled to pick up Taiko drums for delivery to Ganis for some kind of ancient ritual. They are presently transporting exotic food spices for delivery to Marseille, France. Rezo has plans to let his crew stay overnight in France, and then their remaining two days of shore leave in Osaka when they pick up the drums.”

“What of the Mooncrest?”

“Captain Corwin’s ship is about a week out from Pomen with severe weather monitoring equipment bound for Cortez Island on Crescentis.”

“Any problems?”

Cindy frowned. “An altercation broke out last night, but Captain Corwin says he has the situation under control.”

Merlin tilted his head. “An altercation? Who was involved?”

“Rob Caine and Armando Jensen.”

“Armando,” Merlin repeated with a frown. “What was the cause of this… altercation?”

Cindy glanced up briefly at an imaginary spot on the ceiling. “Word has it that Rob was upset at the amount of honey mustard Armando used on a particular dish that he ‘d prepared for a special occasion. He said the honey mustard would kill the delicate flavor of the food, but Armando defended his taste preferences. Rob then hit him on the back of the head with a wooden ladle.”

“Let me guess,” Merlin said with a shake of his head. “Armando hit him back?”

The mouse shook her head. “Armando ignored him and went on eating, apparently unfazed by the spoon. Being ignored only made the cook angrier. Witnesses in the galley said Rob then dumped the entire hot dish over the lion’s head, lightly scalding his ears.  That’s when Armando hit him.”

Merlin cringed. “Ouch,” he muttered, absently rubbing his face where Armando had once hit him. “How is Mr. Caine?”

“Armando only knocked the wind out of him, so he’ll be okay, but Rob is now keeping his distance.”

“What was Abner’s course of action?”

Cindy crossed her legs and leaned back in the chair. “It happened in front of just about everyone, and the captain determined that Armando was provoked and therefore not at fault. Even though Rob is Corwin’s nephew, that fact didn’t stop the captain from giving him punishment. In addition to his cooking duties, Rob now has to do all the rest of KP duties himself without help from the rest of the crew for the duration of this voyage; he has also been assigned ship-wide laundry detail. Armando’s burns have been treated, but otherwise he’s okay.”

Merlin made a face. “No need for me to get involved in that. Anything else?”

“The Moss unit on board the Hidalgo Sun went belly up a few days ago,” Cindy replied. “Patch said he would do a diagnostic on it, but I’ve not heard any more on it since. No one else has reported any other problems.”

“Glad to hear it,” Merlin said. “That reminds me… where’s our office Moss unit? I’ve not seen it since I got here.”

Cindy looked embarrassed. “It’s in the storm cellar out back,” she said hesitantly. “It startled me when I came in this morning and I spilled coffee all over my blouse. I shut the thing off and tossed it in the cellar before I went back home to change.  I forgot to turn it on when I got back.”

Merlin chuckled. “I don’t know how many times I wanted to do that with the one we had on the Horizon,” he said. “I guess we need to —” The com unit interrupted with a soft chirp. Merlin tapped the control and responded, “Yes?”

“Sorry to bother you, sir,” the secretary’s voice emanated from the speaker, “but Samantha is on line two for you.”

“Thank you, Penny.”

“She sounded really excited, sir. I think she may have found the house you wanted!”

“Thank you, Penny. I will take the call now.”

“If you ask me, I think you should—”

“Thank you, Penny,” Merlin repeated irritably. “I will take the call now…”

“Yes, sir. Sorry, sir. Line two, sir.”

Merlin glanced at Cindy and shook his head. The gray mouse grinned and stood up. “I’ll be at my desk if you need me.”

“Thank you, Cindy.” The wolf watched her until she had disappeared and shut the door behind her, and then tapped the control for the waiting line.

“Hi, Sam,” he said in a calmer voice. “How’s it going today?”

“Hi, Sweetie,” said the Border collie’s voice from the speaker. “Shannon and I stumbled across a house that just went on the market. It looks like it might fit all our criteria just from our initial walk-through. I haven’t seen any storm damage, either, but you’ve been more adept finding those than I am.”

“You’ve already had a showing?” Merlin asked.

“Not officially,” she replied. “We were on our way home to get out of the heat and rest in the air conditioning when we came across the agent putting out a sign on the yard fence. We decided to stop and ask about the place, and wound up getting a brief tour of the estate. He hasn’t even listed the property yet, but has agreed to hold off if you can get down here right away to talk with him.”

Merlin looked at his office clock. “What’s the address?”

“It’s at 76 Totter’s Lane, right on the corner with Hartnell Circle. You should remember the place; we pass it every day. It’s about a mile from Bill and Shannon’s home. It’s the one with all the trees and the tall iron fence that surrounds the whole property.”

“Yes, I know the place,” Merlin replied. “It’ll take me about twenty minutes to get there, if the agent can wait that long.”

“He will wait for you, if Shannon and I have to lock him in the separate out-building to keep him here!” Samantha laughed.

Merlin chuckled. “Okay, I’m on my way.”

“See you soon, Luv.”    

*** 

The wolf had been gone about two hours when the front door opened amidst the jingle of tiny bells inside the office on Timber Valley Road. The summer heat seeped inside with the arrival of a canine dressed in a heavy winter parka with the hood up over his head. Penny looked up from her calendar scheduling as the guy closed the door behind him.

“May I help you?” she asked in hesitation. His choice of clothing on a hot summer day puzzled her, but it wasn’t her place to judge the garments of a potential paying customer.

The schnauzer didn’t reply to her query, however, and remained standing by the front door. He put his hands into the pockets of the parka and became still. His eyes were moist, but Penny could tell from her position that his nose was dry. He licked his lips periodically as he panted, but otherwise made no further movement.

“Sir?” Penny tried again. “Do you need some assistance?” Again, the man made no reply or movement. The secretary crooked up the corner of her mouth as she reached slowly for the com unit. She touched a pad lightly and then said, “Keri, is Stuart back there with you?”

“Yes, he is,” came an immediate response. “He’s helping me cut some —”

Penny kept her eyes trained on the mysterious canine. “Please send him to the reception room immediately. There’s someone here who may need his expertise.” There was no further response on the com unit, but slow steps in the hallway heralded the arrival of their security officer.

Penny looked up at him and saw the two mice standing behind him. Cindy looked over at her with a curious expression, but Keri looked suddenly worried as the mastiff walked out toward their visitor.

“Good afternoon,” Stu said in a casual tone. “What can we help you with?”

The schnauzer remained unmoving until Stuart got halfway across the room. “Stop!” the canine ordered in a raspy voice. From beneath his parka, the schnauzer pushed out an old revolver with a shaky hand and held it up at arm’s length, with its barrel aimed at the guard’s chest. Stu froze immediately, the fingers of both hands splayed out in submission.

“Easy now,” he said in a calm voice. “There’s no need for this. Just let us know what you want and we will do what we can to resolve —”

“Don’t talk to me!” the schnauzer said in a strained voice. “Don’t say another word! You ruined me!” He wiped a hand across his face angrily, as if to brush off something that was biting him.

Keri started to back away into the hallway, but the man’s eyes bulged and he screamed at her. “Don’t move! Stay where I can see you!”  He held the gun out farther, as if an extra inch would increase his threat. The mouse swallowed and raised her hands in submission.

Penny slowly shifted one of her hands back toward her com unit, but the schnauzer whipped his gun toward her with a shaking hand. “Don’t touch anything!” he commanded.

“Sir, what seems to be the problem?” Cindy asked in a quiet voice. The man panted from the heat and blinked rapidly for a moment.

“You ruined me!” he repeated. “He ruined me!”

“How?” Cindy prompted.

“Quiet!” he shouted. He wavered, unsteady on his feet, and Stu took a step forward. The schnauzer screamed something incoherent and Stuart froze again when the barrel of the pistol leveled with the spot between his eyes. “I’ve waited five years to put a bullet into his brain,” the man told him in a quavering voice. “Where is he?”

The front door suddenly opened to the jingle of tiny bells. Tina Winters walked in from her lunch break, unaware of the situation inside. The schnauzer grabbed her roughly, wrapping an arm around her neck. He shoved the barrel of his revolver up under her throat and then backed her up to the front window. Stuart took a step toward him.

“I will kill her if you come any closer!” he said to the mastiff, pressing the barrel harder against the white wolf’s neck. “Get over there by the fireplace – everybody with him!”

Stu backed away with upraised hands and then moved to where he had been directed. Cindy and Keri joined him in front of the hearth, but Penny remained in her seat. The schnauzer glared at her, but said nothing.

Tina swallowed hard at the gun in her throat, but otherwise tried to relax. If she struggled too much, he might blow her head off. “What – what do you want?” she whispered calmly.

“I want your boss,” the schnauzer replied through gritted teeth. “He ruined me!  I lost everything because of him! Where is he?”    

*** 

Merlin pulled up to the curb and shut off the engine of his car. He stepped out of the dark blue vehicle and looked up when he heard someone call his name. A middle-aged Golden Retriever across the street was sweeping the sidewalk in front of a rustic restaurant. She waved at him with a friendly smile. He returned the wave and crossed the street.

“Good afternoon, Mr. Sinclair,” the woman said pleasantly. “How are you today?”

“Good afternoon,” he replied with a smile. “Things are looking up, Mrs. Meers. My wife and I have finally found a house to settle down in.”

“That’s wonderful news. Where did you find it?”

“Just a mile from my sister’s home,” Merlin said. “We didn’t intend to get a place so close to her, but it fits all our criteria and we didn’t have to haggle much on the price. The agent is working up the documents for us now, so we should be able to sign and close soon.”

“Would you like to come inside out of the heat and tell me about it?”

“I would love to,” Merlin replied with a smile, “but I need to get back to work. It’s my first day on the job and my boss might dock my pay if I don’t get back.”

Mrs. Meers grinned at him. “Is Tina that much of a slave driver?”

Merlin chuckled. “No, she’s formal, but shows the proper respect to her alpha. Thank you for the invite, but I’ll have to take you up on it another time.”

“Have a good day, then,” she said.

“Good day, Mrs. Meers.”  Merlin turned and walked back across the street, skirting light traffic to the other side. When he stepped up on the curb, he glanced over at the large window and stopped in his tracks. Someone wearing a winter parka was on the other side of the glass, one arm wrapped around his accountant’s neck as he threatened the rest of his staff with a gun.

Merlin ducked out of sight of the window and pulled a DataCom from the pocket of his jacket. He thumbed the contact of the local police dispatcher and got an immediate connection. He spoke quietly for a moment and then nodded to himself as he hung up. He poked his nose around the window for another look and saw that Stu was talking to the hooded figure. Good, just keep him talking and distracted, Merlin thought.

Out of sight, he slipped around the building to the alley behind it. He shucked off his jacket as he neared the back door to his offices and hung it on the doorknob.

Beside the back door was a set of steps going below the foundation level to the storm cellar. He opened the shelter door as quietly as he could and descended quickly into the darkness. He found an emergency flashlight torch just inside the door and thumbed it on.

The metallic surface of a small flying saucer reflected in the lamp light. The unit lay upside down on the edge of a cot nearest the steps leading up into the interior of the building. Merlin knelt next to the cot and flipped the saucer over. He found a tiny reset switch in a recessed depression and pushed it. Both lenses came to life and the unit began to hum as its gravity repulsors became active. It floated off his hands and then focused its primary lens on him as it made identification.

“Mew!” the mobile sentry system responded in a shrill voice.

Merlin winced and leaned in close. “Moss,” he said in a low voice, “Security routine gamma-gamma.” Following its new command protocol, the small floating disc responded with a simple flashing light below its upper lens, instead of its normal audible responses.

“Moss, verbal instruction kappa-iota,” he said, trying to remember the proper codes that Pockets had taught him. The unit responded with another flashing light to show acknowledgement. Merlin quickly spoke into the Moss’ tiny condenser microphone. A moment later, Moss flashed twice and then even its normal humming dropped in auditory level.

The gray wolf nodded in satisfaction and then crept up the stairs leading into the interior of the office. He grasped the doorknob and turned it as quietly as he could. He released the latch once he had the panel open enough for him to slip inside, and then stepped aside to let Moss float past him. The small flying saucer maintained a one inch altitude above the floor as it moved into the hallway.

Assured the unit would accomplish its task, Merlin moved toward the kitchenette. He could hear Stuart’s voice from the front room, and the terrorist’s exasperated replies. Merlin hoped he had time to implement his plan or someone might get seriously injured when the hooded man’s tension snapped.

Merlin looked around the kitchenette for a weapon, but all he could seem to find were plastic butter knives, forks and chopsticks. With a frown, he picked up a small wooden rolling pin, hoping it would be better than nothing at all and silently resolved to stock up the small room with a proper set of utensils.

Out in the front room, Stuart tried not to lock eyes with the schnauzer, hoping that a stance of submission would keep the man from feeling threatened. While keeping his eyes averted, he saw movement near the floor at the back of the room.

The office Moss unit moved quietly along the baseboard, more silently that he’d ever remembered it being, and hoped to the heavens that it didn’t come up from behind and meow at the schnauzer, who was already so tightly strung that anything might set him off.

So far, by keeping the man talking, Stu had learned that the schnauzer had recently been released from a local institution, where he had been confined for the past three years for a mental breakdown. The man seemed coherent and alert, though extremely agitated as they waited for “the boss” to return from his errands. However, it was still unknown just how Merlin had ruined the man’s life that he so desperately wanted to enact revenge.

As directed, the mobile sentry system targeted the hooded figure and covertly moved to a position parallel to the schnauzer as he faced the hostages. Keeping furniture and personnel in front of it for cover, it quietly increased its altitude until it was almost two meters off the floor.  Keri and Cindy saw it at the same time, and both had to fight the expression of recognition from their faces. Penny, however, saw it and gasped.

The schnauzer stopped his ranting and turned his head slightly to look where she had. Moss calculated the man’s actions and implemented its next command. The flying saucer shot rapidly across the width of the room and slammed into the side of the canine’s head.

The stunned schnauzer lurched aside and reflexively released his hold on Tina. The white wolf dropped to her knees as Stuart rushed forward, his attention focused primarily on the revolver. The mastiff swung a hard fist at the schnauzer’s gun hand and struck the man’s wrist with as much force as he could muster. However, it was only a glancing blow and the firearm remained in the man’s grip.

The schnauzer squawked in rage and bared his teeth as he tried to regain his balance. He attempted to raise the gun barrel, but Stu clung to his arm at the wrist and the elbow as he tried to force the revolver away from him.

Unseen by the combatants, Merlin rushed out of the back room with the rolling pin above his head. He wanted the element of surprise, so he didn’t bother shouting for the fighters to stop, but as he swung the wooden bakery tool, the schnauzer wrenched the mastiff to the side and caught the rolling pin on his shoulder instead. It must have hurt, for the man gasped aloud, but it was not enough to disarm him.

The schnauzer suddenly dropped to his knees, but it was an action solely intended to pull the security guard off balance. Stuart stumbled and the man hit him behind the right ear with a fist. Stunned, Stu lost his equilibrium and fell to the floor. Before Merlin could draw his arm back for another blow, the barrel of the revolver was suddenly planted in the middle of his chest.

The hooded man stood up, snarling with bared teeth and pulled the trigger.

Merlin shut his eyes in reflex, but there was no explosion, only a sharp snap. He opened his eyes and saw the contorted face of the enraged schnauzer just as Penny fainted away at Keri’s feet. Not waiting for a second shot, Merlin spun around and dove for the lamp table near the corner. He picked up the lamp to use as a weapon, but its electric cord held fast to its wall socket.

Although still a little dazed, Stuart knocked the man’s knees out from under him and then jumped on him when the schnauzer fell backward onto the ornamental rug. The mastiff slugged him once in the jaw and then flipped the stunned individual over onto his stomach so he could sit on his back.

Stuart struggled to keep the schnauzer’s arms pinned behind him and Merlin used the opportunity to unplug the table lamp and then forcibly jerk the wires from the ceramic base. Stu held the man’s arms together as Merlin wrapped the electric cord tightly around his wrists. Cindy pulled her belt from around her waist and used it to bind the schnauzer’s legs while Stuart held him down.

With the man’s arms and legs bound tightly, Stuart rolled over onto the floor, still a little unsettled from the blow to the head. The schnauzer began screaming obscenities at everyone in the room.

Merlin put his boot up against the canine’s nose and applied a little pressure. “Shut up,” he told the man.

The schnauzer rolled his eyes up at Merlin with a scowl. “Where’s your boss?” he growled around the boot. “He ruined me!”

“What are you talking about?” Merlin replied as he knelt down next to the canine. “I’m the boss. I own this business.” He picked up the fallen revolver from the floor and noted the empty cylinder with surprised relief.

“You aren’t Meers!  Where is he?”

“Meers?” Merlin looked puzzled and glanced out the front window toward the restaurant across the street. “Are you talking about Jonathan Meers?”

“Where is that mangy cur?” the schnauzer snarled angrily, struggling against his bonds. “I’ll rip his throat out with my teeth!”

“I’m afraid you’re too late,” Merlin told him as two patrol cars pulled up to the curb outside. “Meers died about three years ago. The Savings and Loan that used to occupy this building is no longer in business here.”

“You’re lying!” the schnauzer spat. “Meers’ financial advice cost me everything I had! I’ve sworn to make him pay every day for the past four years! He’s hiding from me – I know it!”

Cindy darted around him with a scowl and went to open the front door before the police could knock it in.

“Careful!” Stuart barked at the mouse. “They may already have guns trained at the door.”

Cindy hesitated with a look back at the security guard and then opened the door slowly. She eased her hand out in an upraised position with her palm out and fingers splayed. “Don’t shoot!” she called out through the door. “You can come in now!”

“Identify yourself!” called one of the lupine cops.

“My name is Cynthya Allport. I work here.” She eased out into sight and then motioned slowly. “The man you want is tied up on the floor in here.”

One officer came forward slowly, his handgun still drawn, while the three others remained behind the patrol cars with their weapons focused on the building. The cop eyed her suspiciously as he eased past her in through the door; he raised his eyebrows when he saw the bound schnauzer on the floor.

“I’m Officer Landry. Is there a Mr. Sinclair here?” he asked as he held his firearm with its barrel aimed at the ceiling.

Merlin looked up from where he was checking on Tina, and held up a hand. “That would be me. I’m the one who called your dispatcher.”

The officer surveyed the group in the room and then down at the schnauzer on the floor who panted from the heat. “Is everyone all right?” the cop asked.

“A few bumps and bruises, officer,” Stuart replied as he got to his feet, “but we’ll be okay.”

“Anyone else in the back?” Landry whispered, in the event someone else might be threatening their responses from a hidden position.

“No, sir. This is all of us.”

Landry made a hand signal out the front door to his squad and then stepped back inside. “Why’s this guy in a parka?” he asked.

“It’s my disguise…” the schnauzer grumbled into the rug beneath him.

“In the middle of the summer?” the wolf asked with a shake of his head. “Are you mental?”

“I believe he is,” Stuart whispered to the officer. “He told us he was just released from the Shelton Institution several days ago. He’s been under their care for the past few years.”

Two more officers came inside the front door, and after a moment of explanation, they replaced the schnauzer’s electric cord with a pair of sturdy handcuffs, hauled him to his feet and then escorted him outside.

“Why did he come in here?” Landry asked.

“He was looking for someone who no longer occupies this building, a person who presumably caused his financial ruin.”

“Ah, I see,” Landry said as he jotted down the details on a small notepad. He and Stu moved to Penny’s large oak desk to discuss the rest of the particulars. Keri came out of the back room with a cup of water for Penny, who sat up in one of the reception room waiting chairs.

“Are you okay, Ms. Winters?” Merlin asked the white wolf.  The disheveled woman looked up from the chair she sat in beside Cindy. She swallowed and put her hands together in her lap.

“He tried to choke me, sir, and I am shaken up a bit,” the accountant said in a raspy voice, “but I will be okay with a little rest.  I would like to request the rest of the afternoon off, sir.”

Merlin nodded. “After the authorities have taken everyone’s statements, I think it would be a good idea if we closed the office and we all went home to calm down. We can start again fresh in the morning.”

“Thank you, sir,” Tina whispered.

“Mr. Sinclair?”

Merlin looked up as Abigail Meers tentatively walked through the front door.

“Is everyone all right?” she asked.

“We’ve had a little excitement,” he told the Golden Retriever, “I’m surprised the cops let you through.”

“They let me pass when I told them I owned the building you’re renting from me,” Mrs. Meers replied. “What happened?”

Merlin told her everything, and after a few minutes, the Retriever had her hands up to her mouth. “I am so very sorry,” she said in a quiet voice. “My Jonathan didn’t have the best judgment in his final years, I’m afraid.”

“It wasn’t your fault, Abigail,” Merlin said in a gentle voice. “We don’t blame you.”

“Still, this wouldn’t have happened if Jonathan had gotten better care.”

“We’ll be okay, Mrs. Meers,” Cindy told her.

“What is this?” asked another voice. Merlin looked over at a feline police officer and the small flying saucer in her hands.

Merlin excused himself from the Golden Retriever and walked over to the striped cat. “That’s a mobile sentry system for my office,” he said. He took the discus from her and noted a dent in its leading edge. He tapped the unit’s reset button and the lenses glowed again.

The flying saucer responded with flashing lights when it registered Merlin’s identity.

“Good job, Moss,” the gray wolf said when it floated away from his hands. “Verbal instruction kappa-iota. Resume normal routine.”

“Meow!” the saucer acknowledged.    

*** 

An hour later, Merlin locked the door to the office and then put a hand on Stuart’s shoulder. The girls had already gone and now it was just the two of them. “Thank you for your help today, Stu,” he said to the security guard.

This is the reason I am here,” the mastiff replied. “It’s usually fairly quiet and I don’t generally have much to do, so I help out the girls with any projects they might have.  It’s generally peaceful, but you never know when something like this will happen.”

“This was my first day on the job here in the home office,” Merlin said with a slow shake of his head, “but it feels like a day lost to me.  I can’t wait to see what Day Two will bring…”

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Unless otherwise noted, all material © Ted R. Blasingame. All rights reserved.