The computer was running. So, it was not a computer failure that my dog tag didn’t connect, but maybe something was wrong with the USB port. I searched for another port, but there was none.
I wiped the address bar clean and slid over to the computer Sergi had used for his delivery run. Again, I entered my URL and ID code.
Stretching my neck as close as I could to the USB port, I heard the click of my tag hitting it, and again, nothing happened. There was no connection at all, no spark hitting the fur around my collar, no humming of current. My tag acted as if it was a useless piece of cheap metal.
I stepped back and scrutinized the computer. Like the other one, it was an outdated model with only one USB port, but it was in good condition, and it didn’t show any bullet holes or scratches from a bullet having grazed it during the shooting.
Brushing off the suspicion that something could be wrong with my tag, I gave it another try. I threw my head up and down and from side to side, bending my neck against the USB port so that my tag hit it, over and over again. It made me dizzy, and I took a break.
A waft of hot, clammy air, brushing past the crisp, cool draft from the outside, drifted across my back. A second later, it turned into words.
“Having problems?” The voice was toneless, yet unctuous. It threw me off for a second, but before my legs buckled, I slowly turned around.
“In fact, I do,” I said, “and it’s you, Olaf. Why do you sneak up on me like this?”
“I was interested in what you were doing. Did you want to leave without saying goodbye to me?”
His voice and his blazing eyes I’d seen earlier made my blood run cold. I had to get away, without arguing with him.
“Look, Olaf,” I said, “you know I have to find Ludwig, the faster the better. I’m just trying to find a USB port that works.”
I slipped by him and went to another computer several feet away.
“Don’t bother.” Olaf had followed on my heels. “It won’t work either.”
I spun around. “How do you …” My jaw went slack. “You tampered with the computers? Why?”
“No, no, I didn’t do anything to the computers. But … you won’t be going anywhere.”
Olaf smirked, the corners of his mouth twitching. Instead of cowing me with another one of his mind games, he tipped me off, and the truth hit me like a sledgehammer.
How could he do something like that to me? I had trusted him until he cast doubt on his integrity. And how did he do it? He couldn’t have fooled around with my tag without me having noticed it. He must have known a hacker who attacked my ID code.
This time, my eyes were blazing as I barked, “Why in the hell do you want to stop me from leaving? What’s in it for you?”
“You cannot leave the country, it’s as simple as that.”
“What? Am I under some kind of arrest? Are you an informer for the Russian government or its security forces?”
“No, no, it’s nothing like that. I want you to continue your business the way it is. But before I go any further, I have a question for you. What do you plan to do here after you locate your friend?”
To be continued
My last comment seemed to be lost on Olaf, and I missed the warning sign. He shook his head and said, “It’s not going to work. How do I come up with the cats’ and dogs’ wages if I’m the business owner? I doubt the customers in your country will pay for the caviar by sending money to Russia.”
“It’ll be a good idea,” I said, “if you forget the international trade and merely deal with local customers. Then you can intercept their barter the same way we did it with the caviar shipments. I’m sure the cats and dogs would love to get their paws on chicken, venison and whatever else those customers will barter with.”
After nibbling on his beard off and on, Olaf glowered at me. “That wouldn’t be lucrative at all. In fact, there wouldn’t be any profit in for me. I’m now getting a generous salary from you while you make all that money from your rich customers in your country. You have to stay here so I can make sure you keep your business going, there’s no other way.”
“You know what, Olaf, I don’t bow to pressure.”
Olaf gave out a snort. “You will. Just wait, you’ll have enough time … you are stuck here.”
“We’ll see about that.” Now, I smirked at him, and with a sudden twist of my body, I lunged for his throat. I stabbed my teeth into it and held on.
Olaf wheezed and croaked. He shook his head violently from side to side, and I lost my pawhold and dangled in the air. Whipped back and forth with each jolt, I clamped my jaw.
I never intended to kill him—as far as I remembered I’d never harmed any creature. I needed Olaf alive anyway. He had to give me answers to how he did his handiwork on rendering my dog tag invalid for the USB ports.
I wasn’t even out for blood and only wanted to scare the living daylights out of him, but I didn’t expect his reaction.
He panicked. His body broke out into a convulsion, shuddering, lurching and writhing. As he frantically thrashed his head around and around, he reared up, hoisting me above the computer.
Rather crashing down atop the computer than riding out Olaf’s hysteria, I opened my mouth to let go of his throat. It didn’t dislodge. A clump of his fur wedged between my upper teeth had me stuck and kept me flapping in midair.
With my jaw pried, the vise on Olaf’s throat was gone, and he stopped rearing up but didn’t calm down. He bucked, now hurling me down to the ground and back up, again and again.
Each time my paws touched the ground, I smacked my tongue around my teeth to knock loose the crap stuck there. It didn’t do any good but added fuel to the fire of my tormented mouth from the yo-yo game destined to pull out my teeth.
In order to beat fate, I put my rear legs to work. The moment they hit the ground, I pulled them up halfway to my belly and did my damnedest to kick them against Olaf’s chest. It was a pathetic blow, and Olaf carried on with his wild see-saw dance.
This time, my legs still up in the air, I hit the ground with my butt, and something shifted inside my mouth. I looked up and saw Olaf soaring above me.
To be continued
Hobo: Living forever through his adventures
I sat down and shook my head. This all had to be a bad dream, stuck in Russia with a lunatic pulling my strings. Or maybe I was hallucinating from lack of food.
To test my state of mind, I stretched out my rear leg, clutched the paw with my mouth and dug my teeth into the pads, and I choked back a yelp. Yes, I was awake all right, and sober, too, and now, I was on the warpath.
“What the hell does your stupid question have to do with your holding me prisoner in this place?” I jumped up, spitting into Olaf’s face.
Olaf licked up my dribble and smirked again. “Just answer my question.”
“If you want me to say I’ll come back, straighten out everything and run the business as usual, you’re out of your mind. Despite all the precautions I took, your government was still able to get involved, and it’s too close for comfort for me to stay in business.”
“Aha, just what I thought.” Olaf’s voice took on a higher pitch. “That’s why I took my own precautions and didn’t tell you about our government’s involvement. I knew you would want to bail out the moment you hear that government security is snooping around this place. But I couldn’t prevent your finding out about the missing orders of caviar, so I blamed it on the cats. I was sure I could keep your friend you sent over here kind of under control.”
“You knew all along then that the last shooters had been some of the local customers?”
“No, no. ‘Till the last minute, when the overseer came running into the warehouse telling everybody what was going on, I was hoping the shooting was about something else. But when I heard what happened, I knew I had to stay ahead of the game somehow.”
“So, you started lying to me … and what else?”
“Well, as I’ve said earlier, I want you to carry on with your caviar business, and I have to make sure of it. If you give it up, I’ll be out of a job and lose my comfortable lifestyle, or even end up on the streets.”
I bored my eyes into Olaf’s. “What is it you’re trying to do? Blackmail me?”
Without flinching, Olaf held eye contact. “No, no, it’s not that at all. I have to keep you here in Russia, at least for a while. You need to reconsider giving up your business. I assure you, it’ll be safe now. Those customers who went berserk won’t be eating caviar for a long while.”
I frowned. “And as I told you before, this is too close for comfort. I don’t want to be a part of this whole mess or become the prey the next time.”
“But don’t you see it?” Olaf towered over me. “There won’t be a next time. This is really in our favor. Once word gets around what happened to those people who were protesting, no customer will ever complain again about a missing order.”
Olaf’s breath blowing down on me had started to suffocate me. I squirmed out of its reach and said, “Just run the business as your own. You’re shrewd enough to do it. You even don’t shy back from chewing out others who want to be helpful, like you did with the little dog who offered to help find Ludwig.”
To be continued
To read the story from the beginning, click here or go to Fable on the menu.
Foreign business affairs
A fable by Bruny Hudson
The more you love a memory, the stronger and stranger it is.