Eloy panted as he took the incline. Loose leash draped in his clutched hand, he scanned left to right of the secluded desert, in search of Captain. He cursed himself for letting the pup run free, figured no harm could come its way. But thirty minutes had elapsed and he still hadn’t spotted even his long tail waving above the scrub brush. And now it was almost too dark to see.
He hadn’t allowed any living thing in his life for decades and the fear of the dog being injured, or worse, getting lost forever terrified Eloy. The two had bonded and Eloy thought the dog would be his companion until his dying days. His heart beat faster as he realized he would be alone again. He didn’t think he would survive another loss in his life. The worry prompted him to pick up his pace.
For the first time, he was grateful for the cane. He’d always used it to disguise his actual capabilities, a ruse to fool his neighbors, but now he leaned against the ash handle for support as he trudged through a loose portion of sand.
Guilt tapped him on the shoulder. His friend was so new to Eloy that it didn’t even have a locating chip or even a tag with Eloy’s address. If anyone found the dog they wouldn’t know what to call him, let alone where to return him.
He hoped to find someone with a cell phone. Maybe even Melanie Gray who always seemed to be in the desert for some unknown reason. Clicking away that camera of hers, as if she would discover something fascinating about the lonely landscape. To no avail. Not a soul shared the desolate space.
Eloy noticed only a couple sets of footprints other than Captains—much larger, most likely a man’s shoe size. Apparently Melanie hadn’t ventured to this isolated area of the desert adjacent to Rubicon Ranch.
Curious, Eloy placed his foot in one of the most distinct prints. A perfect fit.
A yip echoed up ahead and Eloy all but sprinted up the dirt path.
He conjured his fiercest commander voice and roared, “Captain. Get over here.”
The pup rounded a boulder, sat, tipped his head to the sky and waited for Eloy to approach.
Eloy frowned at the sight. The dog’s chest and face were smeared with mud and he had something clamped in its jaws. Captain’s tail swept a clean half-circle as it skimmed the ground.
Five feet from the pup, Captain darted away. “Sit. Stay. Come,” Eloy shouted to the form that darted ahead. Annoyed by the “game,” Eloy followed.
Eloy shivered, not from the breeze that had kicked up. He’d experienced the sensation many times during his military career. A second sense alerting him danger was near. The feeling had saved his and his soldiers lives on numerous occasions. As always, he didn’t ignore the internal warning. The retired Lieutenant Colonel steeled himself for whatever awaited up ahead, wished he had a weapon to defend himself.
He spotted Captain at the top of a rise ahead, devoid of any desert shrubbery or underbrush. The flat of ground had been cleared. All that remained, a mound of fresh dirt kicked up to expose a shallow hole.
Eloy halted his steps when he realized it wasn’t mud at all that marred the once-white fur. Blood. No longer dry from Captain’s drooling fangs, the substance was burgundy and rust in color.
“Good boy, Captain,” Eloy purred in a low tone. “Stay right there. What have you got, boy?”
His canine sat there, as if displaying an assembled pile of objects for his master.
Eloy craned his neck, taking in the sight a few feet away, his mouth dropping open as he recognized a foot, forearm, section of a leg.
Flashes of battlefields on distant lands flashed in his mind. Eloy slashing his saber, the slice of cloth, skin and bone, deafening screams, blood splashing from wounds and soaking his uniform. He blinked hard, halting the terrifying images he’d tried for decades to erase.
He clenched his cane harder, as if it were the saber handed over to Eloy by a Korean officer after capture.
Captain whined, bringing Eloy gratefully back to sanity.
“Drop it,” he commanded and the pup opened his mouth. A gnarled hand fell to the collection of gruesome body parts.
“Good boy. Come.” Captain bolted to his master, rubbed against Eloy’s leg, smudging a mud and blood swipe on his pants.
Eloy clipped the leash to the pup’s collar and held him tight. He took cautious steps toward the pyramid of necropieces.
He wondered, who would be sick in the head enough to kill and dismember someone? Combat he could understand—kill or be killed. But this was clearly something different. Another murder for the sheriff and his deputies to investigate. More danger for his neighbors to face. He would need to be extra vigilant keeping watch.
Eloy needed to find a phone, wait for the sheriff and his deputies to arrive, take them to the location before the coyotes came out. A faraway howl wafted their way. The hair near Captain’s tail raised up in spikes and he let out a feral growl.
Eloy tugged the leash and Captain reluctantly followed. Staying vigilant for landmarks, Eloy and his companion trudged toward Rubicon Ranch where a psycho surely lived.