Authors: Joanne Jaytanie
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Over the next few months Todd and Victory became good friends. The two met every weekend at Green Lake Park to walk Dax and Sassy, who also became good friends. One afternoon Todd began telling her about his work. “I work for a private research firm. We recently started this new division, basically it entails looking into the possibility of using dogs’ DNA.”
Victory’s face lost all color, as she stared at Todd. “What do you mean, you don’t hurt them, or do experiments on them, do you?”
“No, no, nothing like that. I guess I’m not explaining it quite right. We are trying to find a genetic link between the canine world and the human world. We are investigating the possibility of incorporating canine DNA with human DNA. We hope to discover a beneficial link to aid in curing diseases in humans. Along with this we are also trying to establish a baseline, looking into the possibility that some humans may possess heightened abilities, thereby already linking them to canine DNA. So far we haven’t been able to tap into any definite connection, and haven’t found anyone with the natural ability to really understand the dog behavior. Frankly, during our last board meeting I thought of you. I told the board how you cured Sassy. They would like to know if you would be interested in heading this research department,” Todd said.
That was eighteen months ago. Since then Victory’s life had become a whirlwind, but she loved it. She felt like this was the path she was born to walk, and enjoyed every minute, except for the need to leave Dax at the family home. She was going to change that situation.
“Victory,” Payton’s voice pushed into Victory’s thoughts, concern in her tone.
“Humm,” Victory looked up at Payton, bringing herself back to the present.
“I was asking about those men, the ones in the woods. You knew Detective Howard, but who was the guy that actually pulled the trigger? I can’t believe Jeffery would knowingly put you in danger.”
Victory could feel Payton’s panic. “I don’t know who the other man was. I couldn’t get a clear view of his face and his voice was unfamiliar. Jeffery didn’t mention anyone else meeting with us. I know he wouldn’t put me in danger intentionally.”
“And why in the woods? Jeffery was never the outdoors man. So you are really sure that they were not aware that you were there?” Payton kept repeating herself in hopes that any new fragments of the events would surface in Victory’s thoughts.
“No, I was too far away to be seen. I’m sure they had no idea I was there. But that’s why I came to you in California. So that no one could place me out in the forest.”
“Won’t they miss you at the lab? Call your condo looking for you?” Payton asked.
“No, even when I’m in town I work away from the facility quite often. I didn’t bring everything that I needed, but fortunately I left my laptop in the Jeep. I called in to the office when I arrived in San Francisco, and told my assistant that I had a lead on one of my projects and decided to follow it.”
Payton studied Victory; it was apparent that shock was finally setting in. Victory’s glassy eyes and ashen complexion concerned her. “You’re safe now. You look beat. Why don’t you go back and grab a nap? Take Dax.”
“I guess the events in the woods really drained me. I thought that I would help you finish loading first.”
“I’m pretty much done, at least until tomorrow. Are you sure that you want to stay for the show tomorrow?” Payton asked.
“Yes, I don’t want you changing plans at the last minute. That might look as if we have something to hide. We need to continue on as if nothing happened. If you really don’t need any help, I am feeling worn out.”
* * *
Dave Anderson and Jerry James sat in the coffee shop down the block from the fairgrounds. They had been there for over an hour, each on their third drink, waiting for Max to return from recon.
“You are absolutely positive that there was no one else out there when you shot Jeff?” Dave asked.
“Not another soul. Me, Ken, Jeff, and all the damn birds, that was it,” Jerry said.
Suddenly Max was standing beside their table.
“Jesus.” Jerry jumped, spilling his latte down his shirt front. “For Chrissakes, can’t you make some noise when you approach?” He spat at Max as he reached for the nearest napkin in an attempt to wipe some of the hot latte from his shirt.
“Damn Jerry, we can’t take you anywhere.” Dave laughed at the sight of Jerry, his crisp white shirt now covered in coffee.
“Sorry, I thought you saw me coming.” Max responded, knowing full well that he had not been seen.
“You know no one ever sees or hears you coming unless you want them too. That’s one of the reasons we hired you.” Dave attempted to stop his snickering at Jerry’s misfortune. “So, did you find her?”
“I took a couple of pictures on my phone and sent them back to the office to verify our target. So, what’s the next step if it is her?” Both Max and Jerry looked at Dave.
“We are supposed to keep tabs on her, to shadow her. We need to know if she really knows anything and if so, how much,” Dave said.
Forty-five minutes later Dave’s iPhone beeped and lit up with a message. “Got our answer, lab confirms her identity. The boss wants an update every day.”
“This would be a good down time for me.” Max stretched and rubbed his eyes. “I spoke with a couple of people while I was at the fairgrounds. Looks like this dog show will continue for the rest of the weekend.”
“Okay, then we’ll take shifts. I’ll go in first and keep an eye on her. You and Jerry head back to the hotel and get some rest. Jerry, you’re next up. Meet me at the Denny’s up the block at ten tonight,” Dave instructed.
Jerry glanced down at his watch, he had barely four hours to get some rest. “Great, night shift,” he grumbled.
“You got it, we need Max to get some rest. I want him at the top of his game when we need him.”
* * *
Tristan walked between the trailers and motorhomes, moving quietly and staying in the shadows. The place was so buttoned up he could hear the traffic a mile out on the highway. Amazing, two hours ago the place was a zoo, dogs barking, people laughing and talking, cars coming and going. Now there wasn’t a soul around and the dogs were all put to bed and quiet. He glanced down at his watch, it was only eleven o’clock. He walked toward space eighty-nine and found a large custom Prevost. There wasn’t a single light shining through the windows of the motor home, so he crept up closer to get a good look around. Suddenly he picked up a fresh scent approaching from the west, and given the wind, heading his way. It was a familiar scent, human and male, stale coffee and yeah, there it was–-Old Spice. He slid under the motorhome and laid flat on the ground behind the wheels.
Jerry was searching the fairgrounds looking for space eighty-nine. He knew that was where Victory was parked, but he was having a hell of a time finding it. There weren’t any clear markings around. The hell with it, he would look for a “big” motorhome, that’s what Dave said. Surveying the area around him he spotted a likely vehicle one row up. That had to be it, one of the largest motor homes on the fairgrounds and very custom looking.
He approached cautiously taking in the entire area around him. He could swear that he was being watched, but there wasn’t anyone in the area. Probably coffee jitters, he had spent hours in the local coffee shop today, and this wasn’t his type of gig. He was much more the in-your-face and conquer kind of guy. This type of work made his blood run alright, but not with the high he loved. He was standing in the shadow of the RV right next to Victory’s, when a light flicked on in her motorhome. “Damn,” he muttered as he flattened himself to the back of the vehicle.
Victory didn’t know what was troubling her, but something had woken her from her fitful sleep. The scenes in the forest kept playing through her dreams. There it was again, a sound, different from the ones she had grown used to since she arrived here. It was a whisper on the wind, a rustle of movement, maybe someone rubbing against something. Whatever it was it had woken her and she was going to get up and take a look around. She switched on the table lamp and got out of bed. Dax was awake and alert in the same instant. “You heard something too,” she said to Dax. “Let’s go take a quick look around; if I don’t, I’ll lie here awake all night.”
Without turning on any other lights she padded down the dark hall toward the main door, unlocked it, and cracked it open. Dax thrust his nose in the opening and took a long sniff, trying to shove his way past Victory. “Easy Dax, you stay right here.” With his head pushing against her leg she could feel the vibration of a low, guttural growl coming from him. “Shhh, I can’t hear anything with you grumbling.” He stopped instantly and sniffed again.
Victory opened the door a little wider, at the same time giving Dax a hand signal to stay put. She softly stepped down the stairs. She could hear the gentle snores of numerous dogs and people, and a couple moving around inside their motorhome. Standing on the bottom stair Victory closed her eyes and blocked out all the familiar sounds around her. She was searching for a sound that was out of place: breathing, movement, anything that would signal impending danger. Then after a minute she turned and retreated back into the motorhome.
An instant later Tristan blew out the breath he was holding from the minute he saw the door open, and silently moved away from the motorhome. When he was sure that he was far enough away from Victory he reached out for his brother.
“What’s up? Do you know it’s after midnight? What are you still doing up? Don’t tell me that something happened to Victory,”
“Yes and no. Did you find out any more information on her?”
“Not yet, but I’ve got Jack doing some digging to get more information on her current project.”
“Something’s definitely different about her. It’s like she can hear the minutest sound, like my scenting ability. I was doing some recon when I was joined by Mr. Old Spice.”
“His name is Jerry James and he works for Biotec, exactly like Jeffery did,” Wyatt said.
“Really, so Biotec wants Victory.”
“Looks like, but we aren’t one hundred percent sure yet.”
“Jerry slithered away as soon as Victory turned her lights on. I think they have been ordered to keep tabs on her for the time being. Probably trying to figure out how much she knows, without alerting her to their presence. Let me know as soon as you find out any more information.”
Tristan scouted the fairgrounds, keeping an eye out for Jerry and his crew. Two hours later all was still quiet, no sign of anyone in the area. Tristan walked back to his Porsche, started the engine and headed for his hotel. Experience told him that nothing more would be happening tonight. If Jerry meant Victory any harm he was given the perfect time to grab her; of course he would have had to deal with a very large Doberman.
At the crack of dawn Victory was awakened by blow dryers and barking dogs, as people and dogs got ready for their second day of showing. She rolled over to reach for Dax and realized that he was already gone. She got out of bed, threw on an old pair of jeans and a sweater and headed out to the main salon of the motorhome.
The aroma of coffee lead her to the half empty pot, a mug, a scone, and a note from her sister. “About time you got up sleepy head. Yes, Dax is with me, along with all the others. I left you Parker, who’s simply along for the ride. As soon as you have some breakfast, head out to ring number five, that’s where my setup will be. I think the dogs could all use adjustments before they show, Payton.”
As she read the note, Parker got off the sofa and joined her for breakfast. He sat next to her pressing his head into her thigh in hopes for petting and scones. Victory could hear the pleading for both. “I know you want some. Lay down next to me while I have some breakfast, and if you are good, I will save you a bite or two.” Parker eased himself to the floor looking up at her with longing, dark eyes. “I think you will be my first patient of the day, Parker. You are very uncomfortable. Is that hip causing you problems again?” Parker wagged his stubby tail.
Victory finished her breakfast, making sure she fulfilled her promise to Parker by sharing her scone. Then she set about realigning his hip bone. She ran her hands lightly down his black satin coat, starting at the top of his head and never taking her hands off until she reached the tip of his tail. Noticing a few warm spots, she adjusted his spine. “I think you have a few more trouble spots. Later this afternoon I will pull out my needles and do some acupuncture on you.” Parker answered by licking her face. She gave him one last pat, slipped on her sneakers and headed out the door.
Entering the main building she was again amazed by the hum of activity. The building was more crowded today, with an influx of spectators added to the mix admiring the variety of breeds. Looking down Victory noticed that in her haste to leave the motorhome, she had forgotten to tie her sneakers. Without thinking she bent down to fix the problem and was instantly swallowed up by the crowd. She was knocked off balance and started to fall. She immediately felt two huge hands slip around the back of her ribcage and began pulling her up to her feet. Simultaneously a warm current swamped her body. “Thank you, I really should have moved out of the flow of traffic before attempting such a feat.”
“No problem, glad I could help,” Tristan answered.
By the time Victory recovered her balance and turned around to introduce herself, Tristan had melted back into the crowd. She was surprised that the man left. “Huh, guess he has someplace to be.” Looking into the flow of people she was sure that she caught sight of the same tall man with glossy jet black hair that she noticed the day before.
Payton looked up at Victory without missing a beat of her dog grooming. She thought Victory looked a little less peaked, but she was distraught and her energy was still low. “I was wondering if you would do me a favor and go over each of the Dobermans before I take them into the ring. But only if you feel up to it,” she added.
“No problem, I’d be happy to.” As she had done with Parker, she ran her hands slowly down each dog, making slight adjustments where it was needed. Only after she had finished the last dog did she turn to talk to Payton. “It could easily be my nerves, but I’m having the strangest feelings.”
Payton stopped grooming and looked up to give Victory her full attention. “What do you mean strange, like funny strange or scary?”
“I’m having the distinct feeling that someone is watching or maybe even talking about me. I can’t get a clear link. By the time I feel them, it’s almost like they know it and shut down.”
“You mean like you sensed them,” Payton clarified.
“Sort of, but it isn’t exactly the same.”
Payton looked around them, taking mental notes of everyone she saw. “I know most of these people, have for a long time. Of course, I can’t account for all the spectators but I don’t see anyone that looks out of place.”
“The feeling’s gone now. I did notice a man leaving the building yesterday when I first felt this way, but I only saw the back of his head. A few minutes ago I was tying my sneaker and almost fell. A man helped me up, and when he touched me I felt this electrical current run through me.”
“What did he look like?”
“That’s the tough part. He approached me from the back. I thanked him and he responded, but before I could turn around he disappeared in the crowd,” Victory said.
“I think it’s time we leave. I should be done showing in the next thirty minutes.”
“So where were you planning on going next?” Victory asked.