Copyright© 2011 by Lazlo Zalezac
Skippy, a black and silver Schnauzer, chased after the ball with the boundless energy that only a puppy can exhibit. Rather than returning with the ball, he came back and looked at Carl expectantly.
Gesturing to the ball, Carl said, "Go get the ball, Skippy."
Skippy turned in a circle, and then started to squat down. Carl picked up the puppy and set it down on the newspaper that covered the pee pad while saying, "Time to pee pee."
Once on the pee pad, Skippy resumed his squat and let loose. When the puppy had finished his business, Carl said, "That's a good boy, Skippy."
Carl played with the puppy for fifteen more minutes. He went over to the crate and used a squeak toy to get Skippy's attention. He tossed the toy in the crate and said, "Nappy time, Skippy."
Skippy went up to the cage, but stopped just before going into it. Carl picked the puppy up and placed it inside the cage. Skippy started crying. Carl went over to the newspaper and carefully put it in the trash. He had gotten a diaper pail for the dirty newspaper and pee pads. He laid another piece of newspaper over the pee pad. The training manual had said to use newspapers over a pee pad to keep a little scent in the area and to save a bunch of money on pee pads.
Skippy stopped crying after a minute. Carl looked over and saw that Skippy was sleeping. The puppy was curled around one of Carl's old socks. Rather than disturb the dog's nap, he went around the basement collecting the dog toys and putting them into the puppy's toy box.
He sat down on one of the chairs from his old apartment to wait for the puppy to wake. It seemed to him that training a puppy was a full time job. There were some things that he needed to think about. He had received the strange message from the Landowner and couldn't decipher it. All that he knew was that something horrible was happening. How it would affect him, was a mystery. He hadn't done anything, other than to join the Pfand, which could create a problem for him. Basically, all he had done was to read a couple of the histories of the Pfand. He hadn't even been a member of the Pfand for a week, yet.
The Pfand had done a lot for him, though. He was living in a new house, had a business loan to start his pickle company, and was having his car upgraded. By living within his means, he would be able to last two years on the start-up capital, before the pickle company would have to pay its way, to cover his full cost of living.
He was still thinking about his pickle company when the doorbell rang. Skippy woke and started barking. It barked about five seconds, and then looked around its cage.
Carl opened the cage door and grabbed Skippy. Carrying it over to the newspaper, he put the puppy down and said, "Time to go pee pee."
While Skippy was peeing, Carl said, "That's a good boy, Skippy."
The doorbell rang again. When Skippy finished doing his business, he started barking again. It appeared that puppies couldn't tinkle, and bark, at the same time. Carl picked up Skippy and headed upstairs to answer the door. Skippy wiggled to get loose and kept barking each time the doorbell rang.
Carl opened the door. There was a very healthy woman standing there with a suitcase on the ground, next to her. She looked athletic, similar to some of the women on the soccer team, back in college. Her legs looked like she could run on them for hours without them giving out. She had the upper body strength that was reminiscent of a swimmer. Her short blond hair was cut in a bob cut: straight bangs, with the rest of her hair cut level with the jaw line.
She was wearing a plain dark blue skirt that came almost to her knees with a simple white shirt tucked into it. It almost looked like a Japanese school girl outfit.
"Carl Plante! You didn't look through the spyhole in the door before opening it."
"At least you took David's advice and got a Schnauzer."
"Uh ... Who are you?"
"I'm Samantha Strong. I want you back in the house, right now."
The woman ran a finger along her belly in the shape of an upside-down cross. She did it once and then, when he didn't react, she did it a second time. Carl wondered if she was a Satanist or something. He stared at her.
"I need you to go inside the house."
She was wondering if she made a mistake coming here without David. Her principal would have listened to David. Unfortunately, David had to take over her assignment. She was Pfand, and he was not. She was needed, here.
"I was thinking about playing with him out here," Carl said obstinately.
"He looks like he's about to piss all over you. You better get him back in the house, and onto his paper."
Holding the puppy out in front of him, Carl rushed out to the middle of the front lawn. He put Skippy on the grass. The puppy squatted and did its thing. Carl praised the puppy. He didn't give it a chance to wander around. He picked it up as soon as it had finished.
Samantha stood there watching him in disgust.
"Do you want to die?"
"Then get back in the house."
Samantha, with an irritated expression on her face, stood there trying to decide what to say. She was half temped to slam him against the door, push him into the house, and close the door behind them. The only thing stopping her, was the fact that he was holding a puppy.
"When a Strong tells you to get in the house, you had better be in it before a Strong finishes giving you the order. Now if you don't get in the house, I'm going to kick your ass, through the door."
"Okay ... Okay ... I'm going."
Carl backed into the house watching Samantha as if she was some kind of crazy person. She followed him into the house before he could shut the door. He stopped, holding the puppy in one arm and holding the other out, palm towards her, to stop her.
"Would you mind staying outside?"
"Jesus, you are stupid."
Samantha swung the door closed behind them. She stepped back so that she was leaning against the door. She crossed her arms over her chest.
"Put the house into lock-down. We need to talk," she said.
"I can't tell you, until you put the house into lock-down."
Carl stepped over to the alarm system. "Turn away."
Snorting, Samantha turned to face the other way. Carl entered the lock-down code.
"The house is locked-down."
"When a member of the Wache family tells you to do something, you should do it. We are the security arm of the Pfand. Didn't you know that?"
Carl felt a little foolish. He had forgotten that the Strongs were a branch of the Wache family.
"I'm still learning about the families," Carl said defensively.
"Did you get the warning message that the Pfand is under attack?"
"Yes, I did. I know it means something bad, but..."
Carl started to get angry. He said, "I've only been a member of the Pfand for five days. I'm still reading the books. I'm still learning about the families. I don't know all of the family names outside of the Bauer family. So excuse me for being ignorant."
Samantha took a deep breath. "The Pfand is under attack. I'm here to protect you from anyone who might try to harm you, physically."
"Why me? I haven't done anything."
It was a good question. Why him? Samantha didn't know why she was protecting him outside of the fact that her orders came directly from the Watchman. There were a lot of Bauers and only a few had members of the Wache family protecting them. She was going to assume nothing for the moment.
"The attack is primarily directed against the Bauers. You are a Bauer, so you get protection."
Carl looked down at Skippy. The puppy was really starting to struggle to be put down.
He said, "I've got to let Skippy play a bit. I'm still cage training and paper training him."
"All right," Samantha said.
While walking down the regular stairs to the basement, Carl asked, "Why couldn't you tell me that you were a Wache when we got in the house? Why did I have to put the house into lock-down?"
"When you put the house into lock-down, you activated a number of security features. One of them is a random noise generator hooked up to the window panes. It prevents anyone from being able to listen to what we are saying by detecting the micro-vibrations of the glass pane using a laser. We do not talk about the Pfand where others can hear us."
"I know that. I didn't see anyone out there except for you," Carl said.
He squatted and put the puppy down on the basement floor. It immediately ran over to the toy box, and took out a rubber bone.
"The person who dropped me off was parked down the street."
Samantha said, "She was. You aren't very aware of your surroundings. In the future, listen to me. Do what I say, without a bunch of questions."
Carl looked over at the puppy. It was looking around. Carl carried it over to the newspaper. "Good boy, Skippy."
"They go pee a lot, at that age. They've got small bladders, and very little control."
Skippy went over to the cage. He went in and curled up around the sock.
"Good boy, Skippy."
A few seconds later, the puppy was sound asleep. The interrupted nap had not been sufficient to fully recharge the puppy's batteries. Carl closed the door to the cage.
"How am I supposed to know if a total stranger is a member of the Pfand, or not?" Carl asked beginning to get his feet under him.
Samantha said, "That's a good question. Have you read about signs?"
Samantha went over to the wall and leaned against it.
"When the Pfand was small, everyone knew everyone. It was just ten families living in a single village. In just a couple of generations, the Pfand had grown in size and spread out over a large area. Now there were aunts, uncles, and cousins, of which only some of them were members of the Pfand. It was quite possible that you would never meet someone in the Pfand who was living just three towns away. Remember, this was in the sixteen and seventeen hundreds. You didn't pack up and attend a family reunion every year.
"Basically, the problem was that it was impossible to know who was who. According to the Pfand, you couldn't talk about it. To protect their secrecy, the members of the Pfand adopted a set of signs ... or if you prefer, a set of secret symbols ... that would allow them to identify themselves to each other.
"The sign of the Wache family is an upright sword. It looks like an upside-down cross."
"So you weren't a satanist by making that upside-down cross when you were outside?"
"No. I'm not a Satanist.
"The sign of the Bauer family is the plant. It has a main trunk with two branches. A lot of us joke that it looks more like the foot of a chicken."
"My secret sign is a chicken foot. Oh, great."