Santa Marina Island
“YOU’RE NOT GOING TO FIND anyone, you crazy dog.” Jude Marrok climbed over another pile of rubble, trying to keep up with the black Lab. “And I’m not going to keep on chasing after you. I’ll give you ﬁfteen more minutes. After that, I’m calling the helicopter.”
Ned didn’t even look back as he sniffed desperately at the remains of houses toppled by the earthquake. He was making soft, whimpering noises as he searched the ruins for life.
Marrok muttered a curse beneath his breath. Dammit, he should have taken the dog down to the main rescue area after they’d been dropped by the helicopter in the foothills. This side of the mountain had already been searched by the canine rescue teams.
When the volcano on this small Caribbean island had caused a 7.5 earthquake six days ago, it had devastated the two villages on both slopes of the mountain. The rescue teams had worked tirelessly on both villages, but after no one was found, they had abandoned this smaller village to concentrate on the one on the far side of the mountain. His dog, Ned, had refused to go to the other side of the mountain and insisted on going to the now- deserted village, and Marrok had gone along with him. Most of the time the Lab’s instincts were pretty good, and it wasn’t that unusual for him to ﬁnd survivors after other rescue teams had abandoned hope. But they’d been searching for two hours, and Ned had not found any signs of life.
And the blasted dog wouldn’t give up. The longer he searched, the more frantic he was becoming. He was whimpering now, and if he started barking, it could bring the soldiers who were guarding the ruins from vandals and looters. That couldn’t happen. Jude hadn’t had time to get papers when he decided to bring Ned to the disaster site. He’d put the usual Red Cross halter jacket on Ned, but the military would demand more proof.
Oh, what the hell. He’d worry about being thrown in the local hoosegow if it happened. After all, he’d brought Ned here to put a stop to the depression he’d noticed in him for the last few weeks, and he’d stay the course. The dog’s depression used to be present only after he’d gone to a site and found nothing but the dead, but lately he always seemed to be waiting for any opportunity to make the attempt at rescue.
Ned had stopped at a heap of timber and turned his head to stare at him with pleading dark eyes.
“Okay, I’ll take a look.” He began to pull aside the debris. “But don’t get your hopes up, buddy.” He worked for ﬁfteen minutes, and all the while Ned just sat gazing anxiously at him. “I told you. You know how many times it turns out that—” He stopped. “Shit.”
Ned was whimpering, pressing close to his knees.
“Dead.” The villager he’d uncovered was lying crumpled, his skull crushed. Poor bastard. “I told you. Now let’s go to the other side of the mountain where we have a chance of ﬁnding—”
Ned lifted his head and howled.
“No.” Marrok fell to his knees and put his arms around the Lab. “Shhh, I know it hurts. Me, too. But you have to be quiet, Ned. We’re not supposed to be here.” Ned was whimpering again, but at least he wasn’t howling any longer. He buried his nose against Marrok’s chest. “We’ll keep looking. You’ll ﬁnd someone alive. I promise.” He hoped he was telling the truth. It was breaking his heart to see Ned grieving. He stroked the dog’s head. “Come on. We’ll go and join the rescue teams on the other side of the mountain. You can show those other dogs how smart you are.”
And Marrok would be walking a tightrope and have to lie himself blue in the face if he was challenged by anyone. Well, it wasn’t as if that would be unfamiliar territory. He had become an expert at both over the years. Ned was worth any amount of trouble he had to face. He got to his feet. “Let’s go,” he said gently. “No reason for staying here. We can’t help him.” He put a marker on the spot for body retrieval. “It will be better if we—”
Ned was no longer beside him. He was running across the rubble, his lean midnight-black body taut with eagerness. He had caught another scent, Marrok realized, and he was following it with reckless speed. It seemed the dog wasn’t ready to obey him, he thought ruefully. It wasn’t surprising since their relationship was that of close friends rather than master and canine. They had long ago passed that point. “Okay, we’ll go your way for a while.” He took off after Ned. “But you’d better be right this time. I can’t spend all night comforting you.” But he knew he’d do precisely that. You didn’t question when a friend was in need. He’d almost caught up with Ned, and the Lab was staring at him hopefully. “Let’s make a deal.” He started to bend to shift the debris. “If we don’t ﬁnd anyone this time, you give it up and do it my—”
A whistle of sound streaked by his cheek.
Ned cried out and fell to the ground, blood pouring from his side.
A bullet, dammit.
Copyright © 2008 by Johansen Publishing LLP.