April 15, 2024


by Steve Loiaconi

“You’d be surprised what people will admit to when a mangy terrier is standing over them with a whirring power drill in his paws.”

Whenever there’s a crisis in Action Cove, the mayor calls in these jamokes.

Sparky is a labradoodle who tools around in a modified fire truck. Siren, the German shepherd, drives an excessively armored police car. Then you got Splash, a collie with a hovercraft; Slate, a boxer in a bulldozer; and Sting, a chow chow in a little yellow helicopter.

They take orders from Cash, an inexplicably wealthy 15-year-old with a good heart and a quaint notion of justice.

I got to hand it to them. Most days, those pups do a decent job of keeping the peace. Saving cats in trees, stopping petty crimes, putting out warehouse fires, and whatnot. Then they sing a little song and take a nap.

But a town whose entire law enforcement and emergency response apparatus is handled by talking dogs makes an attractive target for hardcore criminals. There are cases when they’re out of options, when the clock is ticking and lines need to be crossed.

That’s when they call me.

My name is Rusty, and I don’t mind getting my paws dirty.

I’m mostly Jack Russell with a hint of Doberman and a pinch of pit bull. Cash says he likes me like he likes his coffee: small, fast, and mean.

I don’t think he’s ever had coffee.

Half the time, I don’t even need to touch a guy. You’d be surprised what people will admit to when a mangy terrier is standing over them with a whirring power drill in his paws.

Up in the watchtower, I fill up my dish with black coffee. Slate is running an obstacle course; Sting is watching cartoons; and Siren is filling out some paperwork that she thinks is very important.

“Councilman Calamity is at it again,” Splash says, nudging the pages of the newspaper with his nose. Groans rise up from the rest of the team.

This stooge, Councilman Chatsworth Calamity, keeps looking for ways to shut us down. Whether it’s proposing budget cuts, advocating stifling new regulations, or — as today’s front page reports — signing contracts for some prototype robot dinosaur police force, the dude is a constant thorn in our paws.

“That city councilman is only still breathing because you twerps won’t let me off the leash,” I say, under my breath but loud enough for everyone to hear.

“We can’t just go around assassinating people,” Siren barks.

“Won’t isn’t can’t,” I say, lapping up a mouthful of coffee.

“Cash said no.”

“Yeah, well.” I glance out at the setting sun. “Cash says a lot of things.”

Sparky stumbles into the room.

“Everybody coming to my show tomorrow?” he asks.

There’s a chorus of of-courses and wouldn’t-miss-its.

Sparky is putting on a one-man show at the theater downtown. I’ve seen him rehearse. It ain’t Shakespeare, but it’s cute.

They’re always so damn cute.

“Any of you guys read my erotic Kojak novella?” I ask.

The room goes silent.

I emailed them all copies weeks ago, and it’s only 75 pages.

“Who’s Kojak?” Sting says.

It takes every ounce of restraint in my wiry little body not to leap across the room and rip his throat out.

The flashing lights on our collars break the tension.

“Cash needs us,” they howl in unison.

Everyone shimmies into their shiny uniforms and lines up for the briefing. I hang back by the window.

“We’ve got a problem, doggos,” Cash says, standing before a massive computer screen.

He taps his keyboard and brings up a mugshot and a map.

“This guy’s a demolitions expert from out west. The state police nabbed him speeding down Route 27 north of town. When they pulled him over, he couldn’t stop bragging about the bomb he placed somewhere in Action Cove. He said it goes off at seven p.m.”

We all turn to the clock on the wall. Quarter past six.

“Rusty,” Cash says, “I’ve been questioning him for over an hour and time is running out. It’s your turn.”

I nod and push past the other dogs.

“His name is–”

“I don’t want to know his name.”

I pick up my work bag with my teeth and slouch down the hall.

“Zap his nuts!” Slate shouts.

Always with the nuts, this guy. He doesn’t appreciate that there’s an art to this. None of them do. They just turn their heads, eat their yummy treats, and play their silly games.

I slide open the door of the interrogation room. Under a spotlight in the middle of the blood-and-dirt-stained linoleum, the thug sits chained to a metal chair.

He laughs when he sees me, like they always do. I lay my tools out on the floor, making sure he sees the array of knives, saws, and needles. That stops the laughter right quick.

This is the fun part. I spring back on my hind legs and swing my paw across his face. Then I hit him again and again. And again.

I wail away until hitting his jaw feels like punching a bag of kibble.

“Still not talking?” I grunt.

I retreat to the corner, and I relish the panic in his eyes when I return. It ain’t easy to carry a flaming blowtorch between your teeth without singing your fur, but it’s worth it.

“Stop,” he mumbles. “Please stop.”

My tail wags.

I power down the torch and sit attentively.

“It’s under the lighthouse,” he says, coughing a gob of blood and teeth on the floor. He gives me the deactivation code, and he tells me who hired him. I’m not surprised.

I march out of the filthy room, my head held high.

Cash lays out a plan and the rest of the team springs into action. They hurry down the slide to their vehicles. Action Cove is saved again.

“You’re a good dog, Rusty,” Cash says before he launches himself down the slide.

“No, I’m not,” I grumble. “And that’s the way you like it.”

As they race off to complete their mission, I curl up in the dark and weep.


* * *

About the Author

Steve Loiaconi is a journalist and a graduate of George Mason University’s MFA program. His fiction previously appeared in Griffel, True Chili, the Good Life Review, Samfiftyfour, and the Saturday Evening Post, as well as the anthologies Dracula’s Guests and P is for Poltergeist.


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