“Readers often like to ask where the ideas come from. I wish I knew. What I can tell you is, Chipper, the very special dog in Chase, arrived at two in the morning. I woke up and his story was all there. This is the tale of a once playful pup that’s now loaded with hi-tech software. A secret organization known as The Institute looking for new ways to spy on foreign countries is sending in dogs that can see and record everything that’s going on. They can read and their thoughts can be turned into text. There’s just one problem with Chipper. His natural instincts are overruling the software at every turn. Given a choice between following a secret agent and chasing a squirrel, Chipper will pick the squirrel. The Institute has decided Chipper’s not going to work out, but Chipper is still smart enough to realize they’re going to put him down – forever. Before they can, Chipper escapes. But he’s thinking about saving more than his own hide. He’s hunting for a boy who may be in as much danger as he is. The chase is on.” – Linwood Barclay
When he first escaped The Institute, Chipper’s immediate goal was to put as much distance between himself and the White Coats. Then he could figure out a way to get to his destination.
The man hit the pavement and watched helplessly as Chipper squeezed between two black iron bars and scurried out onto the sidewalk.
Legs pumping, he tore across The Institute’s lush grounds, heading for the main gate, which was closed. That didn’t worry him too much. The gate was designed to keep out people and cars, but there was plenty of room between the bars for him to slip through.
The guard had evidently been given a head’s up, because he’d come out of his tiny windowed office, no bigger than a phone booth, and was positioning himself in the middle of the gate, which was a good thirty feet across. He placed his feet far apart, bent slightly at the knees, arms outstretched, looking a bit like a hockey goalie without the pads and mask, clearly thinking he could intercept Chipper.
Chipper aimed himself straight at the guard, then at the last second pivoted left, then right, causing the guard to throw himself in the opposite direction. The man hit the pavement and watched helplessly as Chipper squeezed between two black iron bars and scurried out onto the sidewalk.
Chipper glanced back for a fraction of a second, to see what the guard might do next.
He did exactly what the dog feared he might. He took out the gun he kept holstered at his side, raised it, took aim through the gate, and squeezed the trigger. Evidently he’d not gotten the message that Chipper was too valuable a piece of property to have bullets going through it.
The Institute was situated on a large piece of land, and once inside the compound, there was a sense of being in the country. It offered a rural, tranquil feeling, at least for those who were able to roam the grounds and were not kept in cages in windowless rooms, yet it was actually situated within the city, occupying an entire block. The streets surrounding it were filled with cars and buses and taxis, the sidewalks cluttered with pedestrians.
Which was why, when that shot rang out, and the bullet hit the sidewalk just to Chipper’s left, ricocheting off the cement, several people screamed and dived out of the way. Chipper altered his course, hugging the buildings, where the guard wouldn’t be able to see him until he was well outside the gate.
By that time, Chipper would be at the corner.
When he got there, he turned left then darted out into the street. A bus screeched to a stop as Chipper cut across several lanes of traffic. Once on the other side, the dog spotted an opening, then a set of stairs.
Chipper glanced up, saw the sign. SUBWAY.
He had been equipped, during his time with the White Coats, with a great many talents. Being able to recognise words and letters from more than a dozen languages was actually one of the simpler ones. Just one of many things he’d been outfitted with.
Chipper bounded down the stairs into the underground concourse, weaving his way between people coming out and going in. He ducked in front of a young man carrying a skateboard and zipped under the turnstiles.
‘Hey!’ someone yelled.
The dog kept going. Echoing from below, the whooshing sound of a train pulling out of the station. By the time Chipper arrived at the platform, the train was gone. He glanced left, at the southbound line, then right, at the northbound. He would take whatever train arrived first.
The Institute had a bleachy, antiseptic aroma about it. Chipper had heard workers say they couldn’t get the stink off them, even after they’d gone home.
He regularly glanced back up the stairs, wondering if he had been followed. The White Coats wouldn’t be able to keep up with him on foot. He ran too quickly for them. There was probably a team heading to The Institute’s garage, where they kept a fleet of big, black SUVs.
The dog looked at the other people on the platform and sniffed, his nose overwhelmed with their smells and the scents of the subway itself. Oil and metal and soot and dirt. He figured if there were anyone down here from The Institute – one of the actual White Coats, or the other ones who went around in dark suits – he’d catch a whiff of them. The Institute had a bleachy, antiseptic aroma about it. Chipper had heard workers say they couldn’t get the stink off them, even after they’d gone home.
The dog heard a distant rumbling.
Chipper peered into one of the tunnels and saw a headlight. He knew all about subways and other kinds of transportation. Learning how to use various modes of travel had been part of his training. There’d been countless days out ‘in the field’, as the White Coats liked to call it. Riding in cars, on buses, getting onto trains, commercial jets. There’d even been a trip in a motorcycle sidecar. Once, he’d gone with one of the White Coats on a hang-glider.
That was fun.
He liked open-windowed cars and motorcycles and hang-gliders best, because he could feel the wind blowing over his face, the hundreds of outdoor scents tantalising his very sensitive nose.
Chipper wasn’t sure how long he’d stay on once he’d boarded the subway car. Not to the end of the line. Maybe a few stops, then hop off. He might cross the platform and get on the southbound line, double back, confuse anyone who might be following him.
The train had nearly come to a stop when Chipper saw the rat.
A grey rat, nearly a foot long – not counting the tail, which added several more inches to its slithery length. It was scurrying along where the wall at the platform’s end met the floor.
No, must resist. Forget about the rat. Stay focused. You must get away. You cannot worry about some stupid rat but it’s so big and it’s right THERE AND I HAVE TO CATCH IT!
Chipper bolted after the rat.
He hadn’t seen any rats at The Institute. Within its walls, it was clean to the point of sterile, certainly free of rodents. Chipper had rarely even seen a spider there. But when they would take him outside for training, he encountered squirrels and chipmunks and birds, and whenever he did, no matter what exercises his trainers were putting him through at the time, he took off after them. Which was exactly why the White Coats were trying to put him down. Well, they weren’t here right now, were they? At least, not yet.
Chipper reached the wall just as the rat went around the edge of the platform, into the tunnel, finding a tiny outcropping no more than an inch wide along a row of bricks. Chipper craned his head around, watched the rat getting away from him. Frustrated, he barked at the tiny animal twice, as though that would persuade it to surrender and come back.
If a dog could kick itself, that’s what Chipper would have done at that moment.
Nuts, Chipper thought. The rat would not be his.
He whirled around.
The train was leaving the station.
If a dog could kick itself, that’s what Chipper would have done at that moment. No wonder they were scrubbing him from the programme. There were times when he just could not keep his head in the game. Now he’d have to wait for another train. He’d lost valuable escape time, all because of some stupid little rat.
Chipper padded around the platform and parked himself behind a pillar, thinking he could not be seen. But anyone coming down the escalator to catch a train would see the black and white butt end of a dog sticking out from behind the pillar.
It was hard to hide behind a post when you were constructed horizontally instead of vertically.
Chipper heard a train approaching on the opposite track. Seconds later, it slid into the station and the doors parted. People standing on the other side of the platform waited for passengers to disembark, but not Chipper. He darted onto the car, found himself a spot under one of the benches, and took a moment to catch his breath.
The doors closed. The train began to move. Posters, faces, huge tiles bearing the station name, slid past the windows. Then, beyond the windows, darkness.
Chipper took a moment to assess his surroundings. The car was barely half full. It was neither morning nor late afternoon, so this was not a rush hour crowd. At the far end of the car, a man in tattered clothing who gave every indication of being homeless – the wonderful number of scents coming off of him was one clue – was holding out his grey and dirty hand, asking people for money. Most acted as though he was invisible, looking into their laps, pretending not to see him.
At the other end of the car, closer to Chipper, a young woman was playing a musical instrument. It looked like a violin, but was much bigger. Chipper locked his electronic, million-dollar eyes on the instrument, scanned images in his database. Ah! This was a cello. By the woman’s feet, blocking an entire seat that would have held three people, lay the case for the instrument, open to allow people to toss in money if they enjoyed her playing.
As the man begging for money approached and glanced down into the cello case, the woman stopped playing and eyed him fiercely.
‘Don’t even think about taking my money, Jack,’ she said.
The homeless man turned and started walking back to the other end of the car.
Then, suddenly, Chipper’s view was blocked.
A woman with very thick legs and a large shopping bag dropped down onto the seat above him. When the dog tried to work his snout between her ankles so he could see what was going on, she let out a startled scream.
No matter how dire his situation, he always enjoyed it when people talked nicely to him.
She looked down to see what furry thing had touched her, probably fearing it was a rat like the one Chipper wanted to chase, and when she saw that it was a dog, she laughed. Chipper took in her upside down face, which was round with a bulbous nose.
‘Hey you,’ she said. ‘Howya doin’?’
Chipper’s tail thumped twice. No matter how dire his situation, he always enjoyed it when people talked nicely to him.
‘You’re a pretty dog,’ the woman said. ‘You’re such a pretty dog. How’d you get on here? You belong to someone?’
She asked nearby passengers if any of them owned this dog.
‘Not mine,’ said someone.
‘Nope,’ said the woman who’d been playing the cello.
‘So who do you belong to, then?’ the woman asked, returning her attention to him. ‘Maybe there’s something on your collar that says who you are.’
She reached down, tried to grab hold of the ring around Chipper’s neck and managed to drag him out from under the seat far enough that she could get a look at it.
He did not want her looking at his collar. She absolutely should not look at his collar. He knew that he might have to snap at her if he couldn’t pull himself away. He didn’t want to have to do that. He could still taste Simmons’s blood in his mouth, and he didn’t want to have to bite anyone else.
The woman was trying to get her fingers under the collar, but she couldn’t. It was as though the collar was glued to his fur. It seemed attached to his body.
‘Someone sure has put that tight on you there, buster. And what the heck is this? It’s not a leather collar. It’s like it’s made out of metal or something. Who’d put a metal collar on a dog?’
Chipper tried to pull his head away but the woman would not let go of him.
As the train rounded an underground curve in the track, the metal wheels squealed and the lights flickered, going out for nearly three seconds before coming back on.
‘I’ve never seen anything like this,’ the woman said. ‘It’s like this collar is welded onto you. And what – what the heck is that?’
Uncertainty bordering on alarm began to sweep through the car.
Maybe he was going to have to bite her after all.
‘Is that something . . . is that something you plug something into?’ To the passenger next to her, the woman said, ‘Doesn’t that look like one of those openings like on your phone, when you plug in the wire to recharge it? Why would he have one of those on his collar? That is totally—’
Chipper said, ‘Grrrrr.’
The woman quickly withdrew her hand. ‘Whoa! That’s not nice! Bad dog! That’s a bad dog!’
Chipper scurried back under the seat.
‘If you don’t belong to somebody,’ she said, ‘somebody needs to do something with you. You need to go to the pound!’
Chipper didn’t like the sound of that, but hoped that if he stayed under here and kept to himself, the woman would leave him alone, at least until they reached the next stop, at which point he’d shoot out those doors the second they opened.
Wouldn’t matter which station it was, Chipper would be able to find his way. All he had to do was stop a moment, access his GPS program.
Those folks in the White Coats had thought of everything.
The train clattered along the underground tracks, nothing but black whipping past the windows. The lights inside the car flickered, went off again for a second, and came back on. No one took much notice.
They’d be pulling into another station soon, he was sure of that.
But then the train began to slow. Within a few seconds it had come to a stop in the tunnel, between stations, where it sat in silence for several minutes.
Uncertainty bordering on alarm began to sweep through the car. People from one end to the other began to chatter, speculating as to the cause of the delay.
Chipper could hear them all.
‘What’s going on? Why is the train stopped?’
‘Maybe one of the switches is stuck!’
‘Hope we’re not here long.’
‘Why don’t they tell us what the problem is?’
Then, a loud crackling over the speakers.
‘Attention,’ a man said through the static. ‘Attention. Sorry for the inconvenience this delay is causing to your journeys. We’re going to be here for just another moment. There is no cause for alarm. We do have an incident on the train, but there is, I repeat, no cause for alarm. We will be moving shortly, but when we enter the next station, the doors will not be opening immediately. Repeat, the doors will not be opening immediately.’
The passengers grumbled.
Chipper lay there under the seat, his chin resting on his paws, his brown eyes darting up and around warily.
They know, Chipper thought. They know I’m on the train, and they’re coming to get me.