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A man in a wet cape, his face covered by a baseball cap and a wide napkin sat on a bicycle squeezing its handles. Heavy raindrops fell outside the passage in which he lurked. Struck by a gust of wind oak branches cracked in an empty avenue that stretched in between the caped man and a single living creature standing on the opposite side: a tiny shivering schnauzer. A limp chain hanging between him and a thick pole jingled in the wind. From dog's sad and lonely eyes one could tell that he had sat in the storm forever.

An eighteenth century, restored mansion in front of which the animal suffered had wide windows with rounded corners. Behind the windows stout suited men and women in glimmering evening dresses were having supper, using specific cutlery as they feasted on shrimps, crayfish, deer meat, and European desserts. In a corner by the farthest window a musician, invisible to the audience played violin. Neon red words 'Club Royale' shone above the spinning door entrance.

David, the man lurking in the darkness, disliked the rich. He hated their expensive rituals, their oversized homes, their demonstration of wealth, and their lack of empathy. In his system of beliefs, money was the root of all evil. He believed that people who spent their lives pursuing wealth had no place in their hearts for friends, families, animals, and the world. Perhaps, after David punished them, they remembered what love meant. At least he hoped that they did. The crime he was about to initiate would provide mutual benefit for him and the victim. He would earn a decent sum of money and his victim would remember what love meant. Rich or poor, everyone remembered love through loss.

He kicked away from the ground and entered the rain. After circling around a few trees and seeing that there was not a single person around, he headed for the dog. Ten swift turns of bicycle pedals, a squeal of brakes and David stood by the poor animal. There, he took an empty potato bag and a metal cutting scissors out of his tight backpack and went to work.

A bulky security guard ran out through the spinning door shouting, „Stop! Stop! „ But when he reached the pole, David had the dog in the bag, thrown over his shoulder and was turning around the nearest corner.

The following day, the incident made it to the headlines of a newspaper for pet lovers „Happy Milltown and the Zoo“. In size 32, Arial bold, on the front page was written: 'The Notorious Dog Snatcher Strikes Again. ' Eating his morning cookies with milk, David read the story about the poor schnauzer stolen by a shameless thief. In the article, the victim, a chemical factory owner, Judy Lemons expressed her disgust. She told of her overwhelming love for the little creature, of the countless hours spent together. 'I left her outside just once, and look what happens, my little Melly is gone, ' she had said in the interview. 'The city of Milltown should be ashamed for ignoring such criminals. If I was the chief of police, I would be ashamed. ' On the bottom of the page, there was a picture of Melly: clean and combed, a total opposite of the way she had appeared yesterday.

A thin, almost squealing and silent bark came from under the floor and lit a smile on David's face. He got up, passed a narrow corridor with ragged wallpapers and walked down a stairway to a bright cellar. There, under two heat lamps, in front of a hanging TV, the last night's catch jumped around and chewed various squeaking toys one after another.

„How are you, little Melly? Oh, how are you? How do you like your new toys? „ David spoke playfully, teasing as if he would be speaking to a baby. The dog licked his fingers enjoying a soft stroking of his back and neck. „I'll be back in the evening. We can play then. Here is your portion for the day. „ David placed a half-full bowl of dog snacks and a bowl of water under a TV which played a bizarre dog drama in which dogs played a human family that lived in a common house. When they barked at one another, their language was translated by subtitles.

„Good luck, „ he said and walked to a kennel outside. There, a three-year-old pincher met David with sparkling black eyes, his leash stretched to the limit. The General was the only dog which, David believed, understood his every word. The pinscher had a strange air of intelligence around him that most dogs lacked. Every morning General waited to be unleashed and take a role of a guard dog, to receive the power to bark at all trespassers: animal and human alike. For good five minutes, they chatted and played. Then, David freed him and left for work.

He made more than necessary in his current job as a software engineer to sustain his daily needs and received double the amount from the crime life. He had a dream to build a luxurious dog shelter someday, a hotel to which homeless dogs would be brought and taken care of, a place where they could be loved as much as those who lived at home. According to his calculations, it would take him a year and a half of both money-making activities until he could afford it.

At work, like always, he spent the morning by the computer building new updates for a cheap but effective antivirus program. He had two fifteen minute breaks during which he chatted with his co-workers and drank coffee. It was just an ordinary day until midday came. One hour after the midday break, a usually bored but at the moment excited administrator shattered his peace when she said that two police officers had come to see him. She carried a scornful, perfect, perhaps even practiced for telling the terrible news smile.

At first, David believed that she was joking but when she assured him that she was not, his face turned to a tomato and his legs to logs. Cold sweat poured down his back. The space around David stretched into a shape of an oval pill. Inside it, he sat at one narrow end while the police, behind two doors and a corridor waited on the far side. It took him less than twenty seconds to get to two unwelcome visitors but it his mind, the journey had lasted for at least ten minutes. Could they have figured who he was at nights? Had he messed up and dropped a card with his name from the wallet by the restaurant? Had someone followed him? Had a neighbor called the police after seeing him return home at a late hour? A hundred probable mistakes he could have made ran through his mind.

The two policemen, it seemed, had come straight out of an animated movie. One was tall, lean as a match, cleanly shaved and of police academy finishing age. The other was an old mustached donut. The fourth person in the room was the administrator, sitting by her table, listening attentively.

David managed a humble wave. In a shivering voice which quickly steadied he said, „Hello, I'm David Chipman, how can I help? „

The older cop said, „Good day, sir. I'm Officer Jared and this is my colleague McCoy. Nice to meet you. „

„Nice to meet you too, gentlemen. „

Officer Jared said, „We've come to bother you for only a few minutes. We have some questions about a wave of dog thefts which occurred seven months ago in your neighborhood. You must have heard about dog kidnappings on the news or read in the newspapers lately. Haven't you? „

„I have. „

„The thing is that when the news of dog kidnappings became public, many victims who had their dogs stolen began to call to our department. At the moment we have a total of sixty complaints. We've learned that it all began in your district seven months ago. Back then, the ransom ranged from fifty to one hundred bucks. Not much, that's why everyone remained silent. But as time passed the dog thief's appetite increased, he got to the newspapers and now the whole Milltown knows about the maniac. We had some questions we wanted to ask you about the case. Will you cooperate? „

„Yes. Of course. „

„It seems, that everyone who owns a dog in your neighborhood, sir, at some point in time had been terrorized by the dog thief. How about you? You do have a dog, don't you? Had it been kidnapped? „

An unexpected dilemma struck David. Should he lie and pretend to be a victim, or should he tell the truth, that his dog had been untouched and be treated as an oddity, perhaps even a suspect? David contemplated about the two choices, each worse than the other. He saw every passing second drawing a new deep line of anxiety and suspiciousness on officers' faces. When cops' glares met to discuss the strange silence, David spoke: „No, my dog has never been stolen or harmed in any way. „

„Are you sure, sir? „

„Yes, hundred percent sure. It's quite angry with strangers. Might have been the reason why. „

„Have you seen anyone suspicious walking in the neighborhood, a stranger perhaps, or a neighbor acting in a strange manner? „

David made a short thinking pause. „No. I haven't. „

„Did you notice someone driving a bicycle during late evenings?

„Sorry but no. I haven't. „

„It's ok. „ The officer said, his eyes narrow, face puzzled. „We've got no further questions. We'll be on our way. „

Both policemen turned around and paced to the exit. David said „Bye, „ but received no reply. The lean and silent one whispered something into colleague's ear that ended in '... here'. David imagined that the words were: 'We've got our suspect here. '

„Dogs, huh? „ the administrator said and yawned. She had expected to witness a scene from an action movie but got to watch an episode from a cheap soap opera instead.

„Some people just can't get enough of them, „ David said to himself

„What? „

„Nothing, „ he murmured on the way to the office.

Sitting in his chair, his chin resting on his hands, David watched at the monitor and instead of logical sequences and code saw numbers and letters blurred into black hieroglyphs on a white page. Every now and then, his smartphone beeped short and silent notifications that received no attention whatsoever. When a colleague asked, „Are you ok? „ David replied, „I'm fine. A neighbor got robbed. I was just thinking if I locked the door before leaving. „ Then he began typing random letters that quickly filled the screen with gibberish.

His mind drifted to a place beyond the boundaries of the surrounding world, to the close future of many possibilities. He imagined his house being searched for evidence. He imagined being followed wherever he went by a faceless man who blended into crowds and surroundings. He imagined listening devices being placed at his home. All these possibilities converged and concluded with a single outcome: he was always caught and sent to prison. David knew that he has never been a good actor or a pretender. How could he get out of the pool of crap he found himself in dry?

A solution came to his mind. He remembered his old classmate who had turned to shady ways a few years ago. He had read in newspapers about George Bottlemore who always got himself into trouble yet always managed to balance on a thin line and never went to jail. The good-natured and calm George had become a kind of crime celebrity lately. He had been seen hanging out with a gang of shaved midgets who stole food from grocery shops. There had been a conflict between two opposing parties in his yard that resulted in a dozen broke neighborhood fences and a few windows. Never before had Milltown citizens seen helicopters but when George made it to the newspapers their visits became a regularity. They woke everyone in the nights, with their constant buzzing and intense, focused white lights. David was sure that if anyone knew how to get out of a mess unscratched, it would be George.
2018-09-07 15:43
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