Night had fallen by the time they all returned to the mobile lab. Dr. Schwarz had already returned from Houston, and he was putting away several sets of test tubes of various sizes into the cupboards underneath the table-top. Swett looked content, though he did appear a bit tired from scouring the land. The other five were equally exhausted, though Sparks and Mullins still had plenty of energy left. They moved to help Schwarz put away the test tubes, the entire package of at least several hundred that he had purchased.
Swett saw the package and gave him a questioning look.
"I got as many as possible; cuts down on cleaning costs later," Schwarz explained himself. "I put the receipt back with the extra petty cash in our safe."
"Good idea." Dr. Swett nodded. "Anything else?"
"I also filled up the tank on the truck, it was getting kind of low."
"Did you keep the receipt for that?" Swett asked him, as he laid the maps out on the table, looking over an area that had been circled.
"No, I forgot," Schwarz replied. "Sorry about that."
"That's all right, no real harm done." Swett acknowledged the mistake, and then motioned for all the others to look at the map with him. "This area is the best spot. It's completely flat, plus this set of hills here, they call it the Indian Ridge, is between our spot and the town, so we'll be out of view. Now the area we want is known to the locals as the Dry Dog Ditch, DDD for short. I don't know why they call it that, but that's what it's called. We've put some markers up already, delineating our claim."
"I don't know about you all, but does anybody else think the fact that there are tons of dogs just wandering around town suspicious. I almost ran over one while I was out there," Dr. Obermeyer asked.
"Was he okay?" Dr. Sparks looked concerned.
"The dog you almost ran over." Olympia asked.
"Oh yeah, he was fine, gave me a bit of a stir though," Obermeyer added.
"As far as this place being strange, it isn't any more bizarre than any other place I've been to," Mullins noted.
"Remember, this is Barken, TX. Not Waco, TX," Nelson put in, nudging Obermeyer playfully.
"It is an interesting question though," Karpan noted. "I think the name is familiar, I know I've heard it somewhere before, just can't think of it."
Dr. Swett rhythmically tapped the table, looking from face to face. "At any rate, we have the place we want, I suggest we drive their now, and set up shop tonight. Tomorrow I'll go tell the wonderful Sheriff here what location we chose. Also, I want the ground seeded tomorrow in four sections. Section one is the experimental formula A, the second section is formula B, the third section is formula C and the fourth section is our control. Nelson, starting tomorrow I want you to circle the perimeter, make sure nobody comes wandering in here by mistake. Sparks, Mullins, Obermeyer, Schwarz, I want you all to chronicle the development of each section respectively, watch for any changes, catalogue the nutrient levels in the soil on a daily basis, and before we seed the area. Karpan, I want you to watch the animal population in the area, survey it, watch for any changes, and anytime you run across a dead animal, I want you to perform an autopsy, make sure our formal isn't killing the local wildlife. Can you all handle that?"
"Absolutely," Mullins told him confidentially.
"Good." Dr. Swett stood straight up again,
and then he looked about him for a moment. He turned to face them all again,
with a quizzical facade. "Has anybody seen Kubelik recently?"
They were upstairs in the Barclay home. Al Barclay was staring vacantly at the ground, his mouth hanging agape, holding a drinking glass in his hands almost disenchantedly. Susan Barclay, his wife, was drying her tears with a navy blue handkerchief as she sat next to him. Greg was sitting on the chaise longue his face expressionless, as he held Mary Beth who was crying into his shoulder, hiding her face from view. Jason was lying in between the chaise lounge and the couch, still a husky, his head in his paws, and his eyes looking forlornly upward, as he felt every fibre of his being mourn, not a single iota of his essence was not bummed out.
Sitting in the felt chair in front of them all was a downcast Bill Budd, who was trying to comfort them, and explain to them what had happened, and where they had found him. "He was shot through the head, didn't feel a thing. Was a complete dog, probably didn't even suspect a thing. We found him over on Red Grove Hill. It looks like he was out for a romp and then some ass hole from Cherry spotted him and well...." Bills' voice trailed off, a knot forming in his stomach as he spoke. He hated doing this, it was the worst thing in the world to do, to tell a family their son was dead.
"Can we see him?" the words sounded empty coming from Al's mouth. His eyes still remain fixed to the floor, and with his words ensued a new gushing of tears from Susan's eyes, and her sobbing became audible. Jason whined and moaned, his heart trembling with the loss.
Bill took a deep breath, trying to untie the knot that had formed inside of him. He licked his lips again, and then continued, "Dr. Shishido has been working on him since we found him. It's a mess. I can take you to him if you really want."
"I want to see my son," Al intoned, his hollow words resonating throughout the hall, filling each of their hearts. Jason felt as if he was about to melt from the sorrow into the rug. Greg held Mary Beth to him tightly, offering a silent prayer for them all.
"Okay," Bill whispered beneath his breath, nodding to himself. Despite this, he sat there for a few moments before stirring, rising from the seat slowly, taking time to orient himself.
"I'll take you to see your son," he said it in a louder voice. He looked down at Al, who slowly raised his eyes to meet his. Al nodded, and helped Susan to her feet. Jason slowly brought himself up to all fours, and looked from Al to Bill, waiting for them to go. Greg and Mary stood up as well, and the whole group slowly ambled down out the house, and down the street towards the veterinarian's office.
It was a quaint building, only a few offices and rooms at the most, but at this hour it was officially closed. Bill Budd however being a member of the police force had a key, and opened up the front door, and waited for them all to pass through. He then shut it behind them, and locked it again. As they entered, Dr. Shishido walked out of a back room, wearing bloody gloves over his hands, to see who it was. He saw them, and he simply nodded. "Come with me."
They followed Dr. Shishido into the back room, where they saw on the operating table the body of a Terrier. Jason was tall enough that he could see over the top of the operating table, and he saw the body atop which was a head which looked as if it had been ripped in half. He could that one side had been stitched shut, and the face was being reconstructed, but it clearly had been shot from the front. He could see the right eye, which had remained undamaged, fixated and dilated, staring off lifelessly into realms unknown. Jason resisted the urge to lick the poor boy's dead body, and turned away from the scene.
Mary Beth left the room, crying more intensely, and Greg followed her to comfort her. Susan was petting his still body lovingly as a mother might, the tears streaming down her face as she intoned, " My boy. My sweet and loving boy.". Al fell to his knees as he stared at his son's mangled corpse, the tears flowing freely from both eyes; he began to whisper words to himself, so low that not even Jason knew what he was saying.
Bill Budd looked questioningly at Shishido, and the man stepped out into another room with him, and closed the door behind him. Jason trotted over and listened at the crack.
"So what's your estimate, Doc?" Bill could be heard asking.
"Clean shot. Done quickly, disposed of quickly. No hair or fibres other than that of Curtis at the scene, the killer probably shot from a distance."
"Well, it leaves out Eddie, he likes to skin his victims."
"Not necessarily, when Randy found the body it was still warm, meaning whoever had killed him had killed him only minutes before Randy had found him."
"Means the killer probably used a silencer. Did Randy find any tracks in the area?"
"Other than the boy's, no. Whoever killed him either did it at a distance or is very skilled at counter-tracking techniques."
Bill Budd sighed, "Does Davis know about this?"
"Randy called him first."
"Great, just as the scientists arrive, we have a tragedy."
"Davis wants you to talk with him, plan the strategy necessary to keep them uninformed about these events. Also, he wants to talk with you about stepping up security around here now that the they are here, so that some nut from Cherry doesn't accidentally blow them away."
"Oh gosh, that would be a nightmare."
"Well, I must get back to my work." Shishido began walking towards the door. Jason quickly stepped back away from it, and returned his attention to the table where the still body of Curtis lay. Shishido stepped out form the room, and looked at the parents for a few moments.
He showed no visible signs of resignation or other sorrow as he stood there, but after a moment, he asked them, "Do you want for him a burial or a cremation?"
"We'll bury him in our backyard.", Al said, not taking his eyes off of his son.
"Do you want me to finish sewing his head back together?" Shishido asked again.
"If you will," Al said. Turning his face from the scene, he stood up, and gripped Susan, and slowly edged her out of the room. Jason followed discretely, silently padding along, the sorrow he had felt at first gone, but the questions now raised in his mind were disturbing him. Who had killed Curtis, and why? Was the fact that the scientists were now here have anything to do with it? Or was it simply a random act of violence by Cherry residents? His initial joy of returning to Barken had been completely eradicated, and now he wished he had never come back.