Lost and Found
Bonnyville, Alberta, Canada
February 3, 2006
Andrew tracked down his boss and told him that he was going to take his lunch break. Then he got into his truck and headed for home. Diana and I followed in the brown LTD, which I had to hotwire again to start. After a short trip across town we reached his house. The front door was off of its hinges and the gate was swinging open, but I saw no one around.
Andrew pulled into the driveway and I parked on the street. I left the engine running in case we had to beat a hasty retreat. Diana and I got out of the car and we walked toward the house. I took the lead and very cautiously approached the front door. I peeked inside the open doorway; the house appeared deserted. The front door lay on the floor just beyond the threshold, its hinges bent and broken. Small bits of wood and chipped paint surrounded it. I saw very few things inside the house that had been disturbed from the way they were before we left. It was too perfect. No one breaks into a house with that kind of determination and then simply leaves.
I padded slowly and quietly to the place in the living room where I had stowed my gun the night before. It was still tucked inside the mass of cords behind the TV. I retrieved it and motioned for Diana and Andrew to come inside. The house was so quiet, I could hear a clock ticking in a bedroom at the far side of the hall. My ears pricked up. That wasn't a clock ticking; it was someone tapping on a keyboard! The sound was coming from Andrew's bedroom. I inched closer to the open door. The typing continued, followed by the click of a mouse. I reached the doorway and began to pull the safety back on my Beretta, preparing it to fire at the intruder if necessary. The typing stopped when my gun made a clicking sound. I heard the squeak of a revolving office chair. Whoever was typing had just turned around to see who was there. I waited until I heard another squeak and then more typing. Then I sprang into the room.
“Don't move!” I barked, my gun aimed at the back of the unknown visitor’s head. The intruder whirled around again and found himself staring down the cold steel barrel of a 9mm automatic. He put his hands up immediately.
The man was wearing a dark blue jacket with yellow ‘FBI’ lettering. Clearly he was an agent. He looked at me with an expression of somewhat nervous-looking defiance. “What are you doing?” I demanded.
“I’m not going to tell you,” he said.
“Don’t make me splatter your brains all over my friend’s room,” I growled.
He called my bluff. He must have known that I didn't kill without just cause. “You wouldn’t,” he said. “You wouldn’t murder a federal agent in cold blood.”
“You wanna bet? Watch me,” I said coldly. I was really trying to scare him, and it didn’t seem to be working.
“Oh, come on,” the agent retorted. "What are you going to say next? ‘Do ya feel lucky, punk? Do ya?’ I’m not afraid of you.”
At that moment Andrew came into the room. “Hey!” he shouted at the agent, “Get away from my--”
“Shut up, Andrew,” I snapped, without thinking.
I immediately felt bad for having said that, but tried to shrug it off. I turned back to the agent. “Do you have any idea how many of your kind I’ve fought?” I said. “The FBI has put many of their own agents in the hospital by sending them after me.” I added, pointing to myself, “Now one agent is dead because he attempted to murder me in cold blood.”
“Yes,” said the agent, “the death of Agent Pynebox was a big loss for the Bureau. He was one of our best--”
“He was an asshole,” I interrupted. “He made no attempt to arrest me. He insulted me, he insulted my friend, he nearly shot a priest who had nothing to do with the whole thing, and then he tried to slash my throat with a switchblade! And you people call me a monster.”
The agent glanced down toward where I knew he had his gun holstered. “Don't even think about it,” I said. “I am in a very bad mood right now and I’m unpredictable when I'm cranky. You wouldn’t want me to ‘accidentally’ shoot you.”
“Okay, fine, Fox Man. You win,” the agent said casually, starting to drop his hands down into his lap.
“You keep those hands up!” I commanded, motioning with the gun.
The agent raised his hands again. "Now tell me what you were just doing," I ordered.
“I gotta hand it to you, you’re very persistent,” the agent said. “I was hacking into - I believe you said this is your friend’s computer - looking for information about you. We tracked you here and your name came up during a scan of Instant Messenger conversations in this area last night. I have been accessing your friend’s records. It would appear he has a colorful bunch of stuff on this computer, I might add. You certainly have the right friends. His pictures folder is full of drawings of - creatures - like yourself.”
“As shocking as that might seem to you,” I said, “some people actually care when others suffer injustice. Now what was your plan for that information?”
The agent slouched in the chair. “Can I put my hands down now?”
I repeated, “What was your plan for that information?”
“Jeez, you’re no fun,” the agent said bitterly. “All right, I was going to send my findings to the nearest FBI office, where it would be relayed on to headquarters. They would add it to the sizeable file we have on you, and then we’d try to predict where you would be going next. I didn’t quite expect you to just drop in like this.”
I saw where he was going with this. “So what are you going to do next, Agent....”
“Farley,” he finished. “Bob Farley.”
“...Agent Farley. You see, Farley, I would very much like to be left alone. I’m tired of running constantly from people who hate me.”
Farley smiled. “So give yourself up. Let me bring you in and everything’ll be peachy.”
“I’m not willing to do that,” I said. “Turning myself in is the same as admitting that I’m a criminal.”
“You are a criminal,” Farley said. “Look at all the things you’ve done. Do you really think you can call yourself a law-abiding citizen?”
“That’s what I would be if you people would let me!” I cried. “All I want is to be treated like a normal person, not a freak.”
“You can’t deny what you are,” Farley said calmly.
“Who gives a damn what I am?!” I exploded. “I’m holding an intelligent conversation with you and I have full consciousness of my thoughts and emotions! I feel love and joy and sorrow and all those other human emotions, and yet I’m not allowed to live as one because I look like an animal!”
“Nobody said life was fair,” Farley said.
“No shit, life isn’t fair,” I growled. “If it were, I’d be living safely and happily in California with the woman I love.”
“You can’t have everything, Fox,” he said.
“I don’t want everything,” I said. “I want my freedom. Nothing more, nothing less. ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.’ I believe those words should ring a bell.”
“The Declaration of Independence,” Farley answered. “That text only applies to humans, which you are not.”
“How do you know?” I said. “So I have fur. So I have a tail. So I have digitigrade legs and a snout and claws. What difference does it make, if I can behave just like a human in every other area?”
Farley shrugged his shoulders. “Come on, you can’t expect me to have all the answers. I’m just doing my job.”
“Get out, then,” I said firmly. “Get out of this house now.”
“I guarantee the next agents who come here won’t be quite so kind to you,” Farley said. “I’d like to help you, sure, but I’m not ready to lose my job over it. I have a wife and two kids, and an SUV to pay off.”
“And I have nothing,” I said flatly. “All I am to you is an X-File. Just a science experiment gone astray that needs to be rounded up and disposed of. You want to help me? Get the government to stop hunting me.”
“Sorry, no can do,” Farley shook his head and stared down at a crumpled piece of paper on the floor. “I have my orders.”
“Then leave while you still have a chance,” I said. “I don’t want to fight you.”
I lowered the gun. I couldn’t believe I was doing this, letting an agent go who had seen me, who had talked to me. What if I was making a mistake? Would he inform his superiors about my true character? Or would he just tell them I was an easy target? Surely he was obligated to tell them something.
Farley got up from the chair and walked out into the hall. Andrew shot the agent a dirty look as he headed past. Diana was silent. Farley left the house quietly. He carried with him no computer discs, no papers, nothing that I could see. He walked out through the back gate and got into an old black Caprice. He drove down the back alley, then turned at the next intersection and was gone.
The house was again dead silent except for the low hum of Andrew’s computer. I walked back to Andrew’s room and found him inspecting the desk for any missing items. Nothing was gone, but he found a sealed manila envelope lying on his bed. He handed the envelope to me. “I think he left this for you.”
I opened the envelope carefully, not knowing what was inside. For all I knew, it could have been a bomb. I peeked inside and saw only a few pieces of paper. I pulled the papers out and looked them over. They were top secret documents from BioCon. I instantly recognized one of them as my file. EXPAS003F. Experimental Animal Soldier #3, Fox. Attached to the paper were two photos, a Polaroid and a 4x6" glossy. The glossy photo showed me during training, wearing cut-off army fatigues. I was standing at attention, with a stern look on my face. The Polaroid photo looked much older, at least 20 years old, and was somewhat yellowed. This photo showed a profile shot of a young, shy, fully feral fox pup. It was marked “EXPAS003F ‘Fox’, at beginning of program.” Then it hit me; this was my baby picture.
I was touched. I flipped through the rest of the papers. They were secret documents about the inner workings of the project, how the equipment worked that transformed me. How had Farley gotten the files? They had to have been supplied by BioCon. Were Cardiff and the FBI in cahoots? Did Cardiff still want me back so badly as to send me the secret papers that not even the President had likely seen? I started wondering if it was a trap.
I started to put the papers back into the envelope, then I spotted a small scrap of paper in the bottom. I pulled the paper out and saw that it was a piece of BioCon corporate letterhead. On it was scrawled:
February 3, 2006
I want to apologize for my actions during our last meeting. I should not have behaved as I did. I want you to know that I still care about your well-being, and that I have not been the one behind the clashes you’ve recently had with the FBI. One of my contacts in the government, who has requested to remain anonymous, has been dispatching agents after you. He has connections everywhere, even in the Secret Service.
I would like to see you again. I’m afraid we got off on the wrong foot last time, as our encounter nearly resulted in both of our deaths. Please come with me the next time we meet; I promise not to imprison you as before. I understand that you do not like me very much, and I want to mend broken fences. If you agree to stop running, I will do what I can to convince my government friend to call off the chase.
I strongly encourage you to take up my offer. Please come alone to the Bonnyville Airport within the next 24 hours. You will be given free transportation to our facility in Michigan, where you may live as you like. I will supply room and board for you, and you may live in our facility for the rest of your natural life. As promised before, you will be treated like a son to me. Think it over. I look forward to our next meeting.
Dr. Theodore Cardiff
I found this letter difficult to believe. I had nearly killed Cardiff only nine days before when I escaped from BioCon in Southern California. Why would he ever want to see me again, when he could just have me killed and I’d conveniently disappear from his life forever? The man had to either be crazy or have a short memory. Why else would someone offer to adopt the creature who came within one trigger pull of ending his life?
I sat down on Andrew’s bed and read the letter again. Diana left the room to shut off the old brown Ford LTD Crown Victoria, which was still idling out at the street. Andrew busied himself making sure that no files were missing from his computer, then checked his watch and saw that his lunch hour was ending soon. He had to get back to work. He dug the car keys out of a pile of junk on the desktop and tossed them to Diana as she came back into the room. “Okay, guys,” Andrew said, “I have to go back to work. You have the keys to the Brown Crown. You can use it for whatever. Keep it if you need it. I don’t care if it comes back or not.”
I looked up from the letter I held in my paws. “I want to thank you for all of your help, Andrew,” I said. “You went above and beyond the call of duty for someone as young as yourself. Diana and I owe you our lives.”
“I take this to mean you’re leaving town, eh?” Andrew said.
I sighed. “Yes, I think it’s time we left. We’ve caused enough havoc in your life.”
“It was the least I could do to help a fellow furry,” Andrew said modestly. “And besides,” he said, looking over at Diana, “your girlfriend is pretty special, too.”
Diana must have been impressed with the compliment. I looked on as she kissed Andrew. It was nothing special, more thankful than passionate. He deserved it. When he and Diana separated, I offered him my paw and we shook hands. Then Andrew said goodbye and walked toward the open front doorway. He paused briefly to wave one last time, then crossed the yard and got into his truck to return to his job.
I felt compelled to fix the front door before leaving. I went out to the workshop and retrieved an electric screwdriver and some screws, as well as a hammer to pound the bent hinges straight again. The job took less than half an hour, and soon the door was back up. Diana and I packed up our things and grabbed some snacks from Andrew’s kitchen, then we closed up the house and went out to the car.
I had not yet shown Diana the letter from Cardiff. By this point she was just going along with whatever I did, out of her love for me. I drove down the highway toward Bill and Jean Foxworthy’s vacation cabin in Bonnyville Beach, and as we neared the house I decided to tell Diana about my plans. We pulled into the driveway and I parked the car next to Bill’s van. Diana started to get out, but I asked her to stay inside just a bit longer. “Diana, you need to see this.”
I handed her Cardiff’s letter. Diana scanned it and gave me a strange look. “‘Please come alone’? That sounds fishy.”
I shut off the ignition. “That’s why I brought us back here, to your parents’ house. You’ll be safe with them. I have to go on alone.”
“What?” Diana said incredulously. “You can’t. Not after all we’ve been through together.”
“Diana, I have to,” I said. “This could be the answer. I hate Cardiff with a passion, but if it keeps us both alive--”
“Did you ever think he might be lying?” Diana said. “That whole letter sounds like crap.”
“It’s a chance I’ll have to take,” I said. “I still love you, Diana. Just because I’m not with you doesn’t mean I don’t love you. We’ll meet again, I know it. I don’t know when that will be, but it will happen. If I don’t meet Cardiff, the FBI will keep chasing me. We could both die. We’ve come pretty close already, and I don’t want to risk losing you or being killed myself.”
“Fox,” Diana said, “please reconsider.”
“I did,” I said. “I have to do this. I need to go it alone. You need to be strong and carry on while I’m not there. I will never stop loving you, Diana. Don’t you forget that.”
“I won’t forget,” Diana said, a tear welling up in her eye. “I suppose you're right. I love you, Fox. Take care out there.”
“I will,” I said.
And with that we shared a tender goodbye kiss. Diana touched my paw softly before exiting the car and said, “Don’t you dare die on me.”
I smiled and said, “I’ll try not to.”
Diana smiled back, then turned and walked toward the front porch. I waited until her parents welcomed her inside amid warm hugs before I drove away. Oh, to have a family like that! Something inside me ached right at that moment, as though it were crying out for love from the parents I never knew. I drove in silence with the radio off and all windows closed until I reached the airport. Those six miles were some of the longest miles of my life.
I arrived at the municipal airport and saw a large white Grumman box van parked near a row of small private planes. Beside it was a black Caprice. I recognized the car as Farley’s. So Farley was working with Cardiff after all. A small group of people were standing by the white van, one of whom I instantly identified as Cardiff. He still bore the bruises from our last encounter. Farley was near him, separated by two other men and one woman in lab coats. I pulled up to the spot where they were standing, the old Ford’s brakes squeaking as I stopped. I shut off the engine and left the keys in the ignition, then opened the door and got out.
“Hello again, Fox,” said Cardiff. “I trust you remember me?”
“Unfortunately, yes,” I answered. “What do you want, Cardiff?”
“I want to introduce you to some of my colleagues,” Cardiff said, gesturing to the people on his left. “This is Japan’s number-one geneticist, Dr. Kenji Yoshimitsu,” he said, pointing to an Asian man of medium height with glasses and a mustache.
Next he pointed to the bespectacled, ill-humored woman with dark hair tied up in a tight bun. “This is Dr. Natalya Moskvitch. She comes from the University of Moscow and is an expert in psychology.”
Now he moved on to the third scientist, a solid man with sandy hair and a serious expression. “This is Professor Doctor Heinrich Schlossburg, Germany’s premier biology specialist.”
Lastly, he introduced Farley. “And of course you already know Bob Farley, an FBI agent capable of hacking most any computer known to man.”
I wasn’t impressed. “So where do you keep the rest of the clowns?” I remarked sarcastically.
Dr. Yoshimitsu gave me a dirty look but Cardiff ignored my insult. “We’ve come to take you to a safe place where you will no longer be pursued and hunted,” Cardiff said. “You will be well cared for there.”
“You said something to that effect last time,” I said flatly. “And then you admitted you were lying.”
“Yes, but it’s different now,” Cardiff insisted. “There is no experiment now. There’s no need to keep you imprisoned inside the chamber anymore. You’ll be free to move around the building.”
“The building where?” I pried. “I don’t want to be stuck in your stupid lab again.”
“It’s not that lab,” Cardiff said. “This facility is in Michigan. It’s even better than the Southern California facility. This one is equipped with everything that you could ever want.”
“You clearly have no idea what I want,” I said. “I just had to abandon what I wanted, in order to come see you.”
“Be reasonable, Fox,” Cardiff said patronizingly. “You know it could never work out, having a relationship with a human...it’s just not done.”
He put his hand on my shoulder for reassurance. “Don’t touch me,” I snapped.
Cardiff continued. “If you come with us, you will have all your needs fulfilled for the rest of your life. We even have an artificial forest.”
Artificial forest? What the hell did they think I was?
“We now have the technology to return you to your roots, Fox. We can reverse the process we used to create you. You’ll be like a normal fox again.”
“Like a normal fox?” I repeated. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
Cardiff answered, “The technology is still very new, and as yet untested on actual anthropomorphic animals. As there are no other anthropomorphic animals, there has been no way to test it. In theory, it will transform you back into the feral little woodland creature that you once were. You will shrink back to your original size, and you will again walk on all fours. You will lose the ability to talk. Basically, you will be a normal fox.”
“I happen to be very fond of my abilities,” I retorted. “What makes you think I want to go through that horrible procedure again, only in reverse?”
“We believe that it will be better for you to be among your own kind, in your own environment,” Cardiff said. “Leave the human world to the humans.”
“What about Diana?” I asked. “She’d be devastated if I never came back to her.”
Cardiff smiled. “She’ll be fine. By the time this is over she won’t even remember you.”
I didn’t like the sound of that. “You leave her alone!” I snarled. “You do anything to her and I swear to God I’ll kill you!”
“Now Fox,” Cardiff said calmly, “making threats isn’t going to help. We’re not going to do anything to Diana. Her record is clean and we have nothing against her. The only problem is you. Anything that’s happened in her life, any suffering that she’s experienced since she met you has been caused by you.”
“That’s a lie!” I cried. “I saved her life!”
I started to lunge at Cardiff. Dr. Schlossburg and Farley had to restrain me to keep me from attacking him where he stood.
“Fox, Fox, Fox,” Cardiff said condescendingly, shaking his head slowly, “look at yourself. You’re already reverting back to your animal state. Either you’ll learn to behave properly or we’ll be forced to put you through the process again.”
“You bastard, Diana loves me,” I said, furious that he was treating me more like an animal than a person.
Cardiff was giving me a look that made me want to claw his face off. “Come now, you can’t really believe that you have an actual relationship,” he said. “Humans and animals are wholly incompatible.”
“You never had a pet when you were a kid, did you?” I snapped. “There’s a reason why dogs are called ‘Man’s best friend’.”
“I had a parakeet,” Cardiff said. “I accidentally killed it when I was twelve.”
“Why am I not surprised?” I said, rolling my eyes.
“I see no reason why my past experience with pets has anything to do with the current situation,” Cardiff continued.
“Did you love that bird?” I interrupted.
Cardiff stared straight at me. “It was a bird, Fox. I was a child then. I didn’t really love anyone.”
“...A trend which continues to this day, I suppose. It may have only been a bird, but it was still a living creature which depended on your care for its survival. That’s the difference between us, Cardiff. You’re a self-righteous, pompous lab rat who cares about nothing other than science. Unlike you, I have the capacity to love. Not only that, but I have a tail. Beat that.”
That last part was added purely out of impudence. “The tail has nothing to do with it,” Cardiff said coolly. “We intended to dispense with it for ease of movement on the battlefield, but our genetic engineering technology at the time would not allow that, short of simply cutting it off.”
“My tail sets me apart from you,” I said. “It has everything to do with it. We’ve been through this before. Let me guess, you’re willing to give me a second chance living in your facility because I intrigue you. You want to see me because I’m different and I’m living proof that you know how to play God.”
Cardiff didn’t answer. I had just swung a pickaxe at his granite ego. I continued, “I imagine that you want me to be your pet, your nice and docile little doggie. I’ll have you know that I am no longer a simple animal. I have no desire to even look at you, Cardiff. I came here only because I wanted to make a request of you. Your letter stated that if I agreed to stop running, you would try to get your government buddy to call off the FBI. I’m willing to stop running any time. Simple logic says that I won’t flee if I’m not being chased. It’s up to you to hold up your end of the bargain now.”
“If you read the letter carefully, you would see that the deal is for you to agree to live at BioCon’s Michigan facility, and to behave yourself,” Cardiff said. “My house, my rules. The offer still stands.”
“What your offer is, is a catch-22 for me,” I said. “Either I live as your pet, or I get put through a long and painful process to transform me back into a normal fox, in which case I still live as your pet but can’t express myself.”
Cardiff was grabbing at straws now. “Think of it as a release, Fox! If you go through the procedure, you’ll be free from the pressures of the world! All your needs will be provided for. Our indoor forest setting is very realistic and, in anticipation of your visit, has even been stocked with real foxes! Female foxes.”
Cardiff’s approach didn’t surprise me, trying to appeal to a male animal with promises of unlimited food and sex. I, however, knew better. The only problem was that I didn’t have eyes in the back of my head. Cardiff winked at one point, which confused me. I didn’t realize that he was signaling to the van’s driver. The driver crept up behind me with a rifle, which I just saw out of the corner of my eye. I whirled around and grabbed for the end of the barrel right as the driver fired. I was hit in the stomach with a sharp sensation like a white-hot needle and fell backward, landing on my tail. My impact on the hard concrete sent a shooting pain up my spine.
I sat up and looked down at my stomach. A red-tipped dart stuck out through my shirt cloth. Not another tranquilizer! I’d been tricked again! I yanked the dart out and lobbed it at Cardiff, missing him by a mile. I tried to get up and found that I couldn’t. My vision was starting to get fuzzy. I tried to fight the sedative that was slowing down my reflexes. In a few more seconds I’d pass out. I was being rendered completely helpless by a few cc’s of anesthetic. The group of scientists gathered around me; one was mumbling and I could no longer tell who it was. I gave them all the most indignant look I could muster, then submitted to the creeping darkness of sleep.
(c) 2006 wannabemustangjockey.