Authors: Carrie S. Masek
Tags: #Science Fiction/Fantasy
“I hadn't planned to come in, but I heard about the dog they found on the Midway.”
“And you wanted to know what happened. Look.” She pushed the stool back and motioned Lynda toward the microscope.
Lynda bent down and peered through the eye piece. At first, her eyes refused to make sense of the dark swirl. She touched the adjusting knob, and the picture jumped into focus. Lynda saw what looked like a bramble bush, thick, brown cords tangled in a mass.
She heard Dr. Lopez's voice beside her. “I took that hair from the dog. From its mouth. I was going to do a standard autopsy. You know, check for rabies infection to keep the County happy. Then I noticed hair caught between the dog's teeth. I pulled it out and made a slide before continuing with the autopsy.”
A hesitation in her voice made Lynda look up from the slide. “What did you find?”
A frown darkened the doctor's face. “I don't think the dog was killed by a car. The spinal fractures are in the wrong places.”
The vet nodded. “And I've never seen a car leave claw marks.”
“On the dog's back. It looks as if something mauled the dog, broke its back, then threw it into the street.” Dr. Lopez pointed to the microscope. “I'm mailing the slide to a friend of mine at the Lincoln Park zoo, to see if he can tell what animal the hair came from. From the size of the injuries, we're talking about a big one. And from what happened to the dog, a dangerous one.”
The playground was less than a block from the Mid-way. Lynda licked her suddenly dry lips. “How dangerous?”
The doctor shrugged elegantly and her face smoothed into an unreadable mask. “Who knows? Next time, it may find a child, instead of a dog.”
Lynda's alarm must have shown, because Dr. Lopez smiled and patted her on the shoulder. “Don't worry. I'll find him before that happens.”
The vet slid off her stool, and a groan escaped her lips. She put her hand on the small of her back and stretched. “Lynda, would you mind getting me a box to mail the slide in?”
Lynda ran out of the laboratory and down the hall to the stairs. The building's janitor stacked boxes in the boiler room until he had a chance to flatten and throw them away. The Animal Protection Society received a shipment of rabies vaccine every week, and Lynda figured one of individual unit dose boxes would be about the right size.
Reaching the bottom of the stairs, Lynda pushed the door open and walked into the basement. She'd expected the room to be empty, but found a thin, stooped man rummaging through the boxes. He turned. A large box dangled from one hand, and a smile creased his leathery face. “Lynda. Didn't expect to run into you down here.”
She'd recognized him even before he turned. Mr. Van Tichelt lived a few blocks from her house and worked as the janitor for many of the University's apartment buildings. Lynda couldn't remember a time when she hadn't known him.
She returned his smile. “Hi, Van. I'm getting a box for Dr. Lopez. When did you start working here?”
Van's face collapsed into a web of lines. “I didn't. I came to get Rex.”
Lynda knew Rex, a big, white stray Van had found half-frozen outside his basement apartment nearly eight years ago. Van had fed the dog and licensed him, but had never managed to keep him inside. Rex was notorious for rummaging through trash cans and attacking other dogs. “He didn't get in another fight, did he?” she asked.
“No.” The old man sighed. “Some idiot ran him over.”
She felt like someone had kicked her in the stomach. Gulping back a sob, she reached out to hug her friend. “Van, I'm so sorry.”
He patted her back clumsily, then stepped away. “Was only a matter of time. Traffic's gotten bad around near the University.”
Near the University. A chill only half caused by the damp basement sent shivers across Lynda's shoulders. “There, now,” Van said, apparently noticing. “You've stood down here long enough. Get that box and we'll walk upstairs together.”
Lynda bent down to pick up an empty vaccine box. She stood and swallowed the tightness in her throat. “Van? Where did they find Rex?”
“Near your school, there. On the Midway.”
VAN NEVER drove. As far as Lynda knew, he'd never learned how. When he told her he planned to carry Rex home in the box, she offered him a ride. The thought of the old man walking halfway across Hyde Park carrying his dead dog was more than she could bear.
They walked up the stairs together. Once in the hall, he pointed toward the canine holding area. “They've got some forms for me to fill out in the lobby. Might as well take the shortcut.”
Lynda watched him push through the door, then darted into the laboratory. The veterinarian sat on her stool, addressing a mailing label. “Dr. Lopez, was the dog you're working on a white bull terrier?”
The veterinarian swiveled around. “Yes.”
“Its owner's here to pick up the body.”
Dr. Lopez glanced up at the ceiling. She never swore, but Lynda got the impression she wanted to. “I told him not to bother.”
“Well, he's in the waiting room with a box to carry the body home in.”
Sighing, Dr. Lopez pushed herself off the stool. After setting the box beside the microscope, Lynda turned and followed the veterinarian out of the lab and down the hall-way to the lobby.
“Mr. Van Tichelt,” Dr. Lopez began even before the door swung shut behind her. “I'm sorry you came all this way, but I have to keep your dog here.”
Van stood at the counter, puzzling over a yellow form. He looked up. “Why?”
“Because I'm not sure what killed him.”
Van's gaze never wavered. “But Rex had his shots—he couldn't have had rabies.”
Dr. Lopez leaned back against the counter. “I think your dog was killed by another animal. His body can help us determine what kind of creature it is, and to verify if it kills again. I'm sorry I didn't explain that over the phone, but I didn't realize you'd come all this way. Most owners prefer to let us dispose of the body.”
“I thought Rex was hit by a car.” Van sounded so lost, Lynda wanted to hug him again. She stepped up and put her hand on his shoulder.
The doctor sighed. “So did I, at first. If you want, I'll call you when we're done with him.”
Van's shoulders slumped beneath Lynda's grasp. “I took care of Rex for eight years, I'm not about to let him go out with the trash.”
Dr. Lopez nodded. “I'll call as soon as I can.”
Lynda squeezed Van's shoulder. “Still want that ride?”
A smile flitted across his face. “Thanks. I'm feeling my age this evening.”
THE SUN hovered on the horizon by the time Lynda parked near Van's building, a limestone six flat. He thanked her again before opening the door and heading for his apartment. She waved and was about to drive away when she spotted Greg Ursek jogging up 57th Street.
Dying to tell someone about what she'd learned at the animal shelter, Lynda honked her horn. She climbed out of the car and ran to the corner. “Hey, Greg,” she called. “Re-member me? Lynda Malone from the Lab school?”
Greg stopped while a truck pulled in front of him, then trotted across the street toward her. A smile broke across his face. “Hey.”
“I found out about that dog Ellen saw on the Midway.”
Greg's smile collapsed. He glanced over his shoulder toward the setting sun and started walking faster. “Can't talk now. I'm late.”
Lynda fell in beside Greg, and walked with him up the steps to Van's building. “You know Van, the janitor who lives here? It was his dog, Rex. You must have seen him around, a big, white bull terrier with a torn ear?” Greg's hand froze halfway to the door knob. Encouraged by his reaction, Lynda went on, “At first, the vet at the animal shelter thought a car had hit him, but she changed her mind. Rex was mauled.”
Greg spun around, nearly knocking Lynda off the stairs. “What?”
The animal energy she'd sensed earlier seemed to shimmer around him. She licked her lips before answering. “The vet at the shelter found claw marks on him. And his back was broken in the wrong places for him to have been hit by a car.”
Lynda's jaw firmed with resolve. “I'm going to help Dr. Lopez—that's the vet I know—find the creature that killed him.”
Greg turned and pushed open the exterior door. “Stupid waste of time,” he mumbled.
She followed him into the entryway and paused between the brass mailboxes while he fumbled with his keys. “Why? We might be able to catch the animal before it kills another dog. I think saving a dog's life is worth a little time, don't you?”
“No.” Greg sounded grim, angry. He jammed a key in-to the lock hard enough to make the door shudder. “If people can't keep their animals off the street, they deserve whatever happens to them.”
Shoving open the door, he hesitated and looked back at her. The scowl on his face eased. “Lynda, I—”
“Gregory!” Someone roared from inside the building.
Greg threw himself through the door. “See you tomorrow,” he called and disappeared up the stairs.
Lynda stared after him. Would she see him tomorrow? After the heartless things he'd just said, she certainly hoped not.
HE WAITED until the moon rose and the traffic stilled be-fore continuing his search. Picking up her scent near the playground, he followed it to her house. He remembered the cream brick building—he'd darted into an alley to escape the lights blazing from its windows.
What a fool he'd been. If only he'd braved the light and checked the steps. Her presence perfumed every stone.
He hid in the shadowed alley, thankful the moon had slipped behind a cloud. The windows stared blindly at him, their lights extinguished. She slept behind one of those windows. He imagined her curled under cotton and down, dark hair spilling across her moon-white pillow, and sighed.
She wasn't for him, she couldn't be. Yet he stayed in the alley, staring at the sleeping house until the stars behind it began to fade. Only then did he turn and follow the alley home.
LYNDA TORE around the corner toward Mr. Pullman's biology class. All last year, she'd sat at the lab station closest to the blackboard, and she wanted to make sure she grabbed it again this year. She ran through the doorway and froze; the person she had been avoiding all day had beaten her to it. Greg Ursek had her seat.
Lynda wondered if she could get him to move. With the way he squinted at the board, she supposed not. His eyes seemed small behind his silver framed glasses, his nose pinched, as if he were trying not to breathe through it. Lips pressed together and turned down at the corners added to his uneasy expression. He looked up at her, and his lips relaxed into a smile.
For an instant, she considered taking the seat next to him. He had a great smile. Then reality hit—what was she thinking? The labs had been hard enough when she'd liked her partner. It was bad enough that Ellen was in a different biology section this year. Lynda knew she'd never get through Biology 2 if she had to share her lab station with the Incredible Dog-hating Boy.
Ignoring his welcoming smile, Lynda hurried past the first row of black tables. Mr. Pullman called the tables “lab stations.” They consisted of two tall stools facing a sink on one side and drawers down the other. The faint but persistent odor of formaldehyde hung over them all.
She'd just dropped her backpack on a table in the second row when Mr. Pullman, a bald, heavyset man, stepped into the room. “Ursek,” he called.
Lynda wondered what Greg had done to be in trouble already and tried to hide a smirk. It dissolved the instant Mr. Pullman turned his razor gaze on her and nodded to-ward his desk in front of the room. “You, too, Malone. I need to talk to both of you before class.”
Uncomfortably aware that she'd just become the center of everyone's attention, Lynda pushed past the tide of students entering the room until she stood by the corner of Mr. Pullman's gray metal desk. She tried not to notice the Neanderthal standing next to her and instead focused her attention on the biology teacher. His face cracked into a rare smile.
Uh, oh, Lynda thought.
“Ursek, I want you to partner up with Malone here. Her methodology is excellent, she takes extensive notes, and she's one of the few students up to doing most of the labs by herself.”
“By myself?” Lynda asked, not sure she'd heard correctly.
Greg stared at her shoulder as if afraid to meet her gaze. “Yeah. I have a doctor's note excusing me from the dissections, or any labs that use organic chemicals like formaldehyde. I have very sensitive sinuses.”
Lynda knew a lot of kids hated doing the dissections, but she'd never heard of anyone going to such lengths to avoid them. Most of the really squeamish ones signed up for Chemistry. “How can he take biology without doing the labs?”
Mr. Pullman's customary scowl dropped back into place. “Ursek will still keep a lab book. He'll take his sketches from the text book and copy your observations. I'll have assignments for him to complete on the days you actually perform the dissections. No one gets a free ride in my class.” Mr. Pullman skewered Greg with one of his famous glares, and Lynda almost felt sorry for him.
But not sorry enough to agree to be his lab partner. “Mr. Pullman, I—”
“Thanks, Malone. I knew I could count on you.” He lifted his gaze and scanned the classroom. “All right, people, summer's over. Open your books to page 16.”
Lynda tried to ignore the curious stares that followed her back to her books. There must be some way to get out of being Greg's lab partner. Her gaze fell on Kevin Granger's shock of bright red hair. Kevin leaned over an open text book and apparently hadn't even noticed the show at Mr. Pullman's desk.
Last year's finalist in Abbott Laboratory's Young Scientists competition, Kevin had a reputation for being interested only in class work and Science Club. Lynda had heard a rumor that he'd gotten the highest score in school history on the Biology Achievement test last year. Kevin took great notes and, unlike Lynda, preferred to work alone.
Grabbing her backpack, Lynda hurried to the chair next to Greg and made herself smile at him. All she had to do, she realized, was convince Greg he wanted Kevin as his lab partner.