Liebchen’s Not Happy, Jan.
Director Liebchen was standing in the entrance of the podcasting garage when we returned, her paws folded across her chest. She watched as we huffed and puffed up the steep hill of the driveway, dragging our duffel bags behind us.
Sheriff Ivan and Deputy B-Money sat at a desk behind her, sipping on coffee in takeaway cups.
Sheriff Ivan took off his hat and stood up as we neared.
‘The Prodigal Son returns,’ Leibchen said finally, pointing a paw to me. ‘Where are my agents?’
‘They’re not back already? They left before us,’ I said. ‘I assumed they were meeting us back here.’
‘Dammit!’ Liebchen’s paw reached up to her ear where an earpiece was placed.
‘Johnny’s safe by the way,’ I snapped.
‘Yes, I know. I’ve got eyes and ears everywhere, Ming. Although, perhaps this time I could’ve saved myself the trouble of the drone and all the expensive tracking devices, as your little party with Mac and his cats is all over YouTube anyway.’
‘I heard. I’ve got a few eyes and ears on the ground of my own, you know,’ I said.
Deputy B-Money opened up his first aid kit. ‘Come here, all of you. Let me clean up those cuts and scrapes.’
Cayman and I pushed B-Max and Jack forward. B-Max had a bleeding wound from his ear. Jack’s beige shoulder had turned an amusing shade of pinky orange from a small tear. We all had several bruises, but no serious damage had been done.
‘You guys. Geez, you’re really not trained for this sort of thing,’ B-Money sighed as he dabbed an alcohol swab gently down on B-Max’s ear. B-Max flinched when it touched him.
‘We didn’t have much of a choice,’ I said.
‘No, you didn’t have a choice, that’s correct. Your order was to stay put. The orders were for my team to stay put!’ Liebchen exploded. ‘You all disobeyed me. Why even bother having a director if no one ever listens?’ She paced back and forth, fiddling with the earpiece in her ear, mumbling directions to whoever was on the other end of the line.
Sheriff Ivan touched her shoulder gently. She whispered something to him and he nodded. ‘First order of business,’ he said. ‘Where is The Rat Pack now? They must have said where they were going to hide out.’
‘We don’t know.’ And I honestly didn’t. ‘Lying low, I’d guess. From you,’ I said looking at Director Liebchen.
She scoffed. ‘Forget about the trouble they’re in. I’m glad they got the job done. I only want them pulled back in for safety and questioning now. Also, they’re in serious need of some extra training and upskilling so that they stop losing Johnny every second week.’
I smiled. ‘Adrenalin junkies. Whatcha gonna do?’
Liebchen said something softly into her earpiece again. ‘Ming, you need to contact me the minute you hear from them. Please. I want them back safe.’
‘If I hear from them, I’ll let them know you’d like a word.’
‘What’s going to happen to Mac?’ Cayman asked.
‘In terms of the whole kidnapping Johnny? There’s not a lot I can do now that we’ve been exposed. My agents should be secret, now one of them is being flashed all over the internet and Mac has accused him of being an independent spy. My agents should never have been taking work from outside the agency, but it’s something that I’ve been able to overlook. Until now.’
‘A spy? The Rat Pack looked in on Mac for me a couple of times. I asked them for a favour, it wasn’t as if they were working against the agency,’ I said.
‘I understand this wasn’t the first time they undertook work for A Dog With A Pod…Cast. Did they take payment from you when you hired them?’ Liebchen asked.
‘If cheese and friendship is payment, then yes,’ Devon said.
Liebchen covered up her earpiece with her paw, she lowered her voice. ‘Listen, I need all of this to go away. It makes the agency look really bad. My agents working alone. Disobeying me. Exposing us like this.’ She turned her phone around, showing us a paused video image of Johnny and B-Max being pulled from the pool by Jack, The Rat Pack flying in from the roof.
B-Max beamed. ‘Look at us! That’s a movie poster right there.’
Liebchen pulled the phone back to her. ‘Budget cuts are already rife, and this won’t help.’
‘But what about the blackmailing of Charli the Kardashian cat?’ Moxie said.
‘That’s not our concern. It’s not in our jurisdiction, nor do I care. You could report it to the Codes and Ethics body of The Animal Kingdom’s Podcasting Industry, I guess.’
‘So he gets away with everything that he’s done? The bird just flies?’ Ralph said quickly.
Liebchen sighed. ‘My priority is bringing in The Rat Pack and covering up this mess. My IT crew are working on pulling the video down as we speak but it’s already had over a million hits.’
‘A million hits?’ Bentley asked. ‘Why would Mac even show that footage to The Animal Kingdom? It’ll destroy him and his podcast. He looks like an absolute psycho to all his fans now.’
‘I’m glad he did it before the awards show, anyway. We’ve won for sure now,’ said Moxie, adjusting a purple bow on her head.
‘This is bigger than the awards show,’ Liebchen scolded.
Moxie looked down to the floor.
Deputy B-Money closed his first aid kit and stood up. ‘Alright, you’ll all live,’ he announced. ‘I’m done here.’
‘Good. I’ll head back to the office,’ Liebchen said. ‘Ivan, I need you and B-Money to deploy the Special Agent Schnauzers. I want all of them out looking for The Rat Pack as an absolute priority.’
The boys nodded.
‘I’ll see you both at home for dinner,’ Liebchen finished.
My head shifted to one side. Dinner? Home?
As the three of them walked out of our space and off in separate directions to do their jobs, Cayman nudged forward and whispered. ‘They’re all engaged, you know. All three of them. Boyfriends and girlfriend. To be wed soon. It’s called polygamy. Po-liiig-o-mi.’ His made his giant eyebrows bounce up and down and he winked as he sounded out this new word.
‘No, Cayman. Polygamy is when a gentleman has more than one wife. When a woman has more than one husband it’s called polyandry,’ a sweet drawling voice said from behind me.
I spun around. Heidi smiled at me. ‘Each to their own,’ she said.
My heart instantly started banging away in my chest. It was like I was seeing all of my friends for the first time. I had been so busy thinking about Liebchen and Mac that I barely noticed them before now. A flood of relief washed over me. ‘Are you guys all okay?’ I gushed. My eyes searched frantically around the garage. Devon and Bentley were standing in front of my desk, papers strewn around the floor and all over the keyboard. Arlo and Ralph were next to them, looking at us, smiling.
Arlo picked up a carrot and took a huge bite. Between crunches he said, ’Thank God you guys are alright! Ralph nearly had a heart attack with all that action.’
Gypsy, Poppy and Bella started jumping around in circles and laughing. ‘B-Max! You were so amazing back there with Mac. The footage was the best! When you jumped into that pool! Gold,’ Gypsy yelped.
‘And Jack! Oh, Jack! Our hero,’ sang Poppy.
Devon was smiling so broadly that his snout had turned up weirdly. He shifted from side to side, his little tail wiggling with excitement until he couldn’t keep still anymore. He ran around from the desk, skidding for a moment on the concrete floor, his hooves clacking as he ran. He took aim towards me.
‘No, Devon, slow dow-’ I started, but Devon had hurled himself off the ground in an attempt to jump into my arms. He plowed into me and we both flew backwards out of the garage and onto the concrete driveway, slamming into the hard surface and rolling over one another. Devon giggled with delight as my shoulder screamed out in pain, but I didn’t care.
I was laughing with Devon as The Squad approached us from different sides. They were giggling, all of them talking at once, sniffing and licking at us both.
I looked up into the sky, the blue of it, blindingly beautiful in between all the faces and ears, snouts and fur. I took as many of my squad that I could fit into my arms and breathed them all in. The thought of The Kid flashed through my mind. She would love this. So I took an extra few moments of those warm, fuzzy feelings, just for her.
To be continued…