TREADING THE BEAST OF WATER

Named in the memory of a man he’d never known, Oscar had no clear-cut hours. Shift work. Mostly nights, sometimes day. Always partnered with Trask. The two worked side-by-side, never a question between them. Trask kept a worried face. It was his nature. So much so, in fact, that it gave colleagues cause to smirk and crinkle behind his back. Oscar didn’t see it that way. He could read his partner better than those fools and for that matter even better than the man himself.

Yes, Trask was always worried. Perhaps wound too tight. Perhaps. Perhaps he was just focused. Even when he told Oscar that the day was done and done well, it clearly wasn’t. Such was the stressful nature of their business, as though theirs was the job of affixing duct tape to a leaking dam. That’s how the two of them carried their work home. They kept it with them always. There were never enough hours of sleep or drink or supposedly mind-numbing hours of idleness that could wash away the stress of what had been or what might come. Oddly enough, it was the latter, the prospect of tomorrow’s challenge, that kept them both going. Bigger cracks. Less tape. Diminishing time. The always growing beast of water. The trusting village below.

Oscar was Trask’s pride. Like a son. Even as a rookie, the new boy shined and took to every assignment with a gusto and perfection that made it look all too easy. He never questioned the tutelage Trask handed down.

Oscar was Belgian. At least by birth. He had left his homeland when he was young. Weeks young, in fact. Taken from his mother, his land and that language all before he’d ever a chance to form a memory of them. His name, if he’d had one in that place, was lost as well. His new name, Oscar, was given to him by Trask, his partner. It was bestowed on him in honor of another man; a brother-in-arms who had fallen before.

Together, Trask and Oscar patrolled the streets, treading the dark waters, searching for cracks in the dam. Oscar was a K-9.

Trask preferred the night-shift. Night was water. A cloak of comfort for creatures that abhorred the light. Secure in their element, they would slip from the crevices below, unfurl themselves and rise from the deep to prey upon the unwitting.

It was neither Trask nor Oscar’s fault when the dam gave. Blood, not water. The village wasn’t flooded but the lake of Trask ran dry.

Empty late hours. The squeal of tires and gun shots went ignored. An old man at his window—a man who normally looked for any excuse to call in his complaints—he waved the disturbance off. ‘Punk kids with their fire crackers. Nothing more.’

Trask—officer down—lay splayed in the middle of an avenue that now seemed wider than he’d ever recalled. It grew wider still as each breath narrowed. He couldn’t feel it, thank God, but his left leg was so mangled and contorted that the heel kissed his shoulder blade. Oscar, his partner and best friend, was down as well, broken beside him.

Trask moved on. Whimpering, Oscar lifted an ear.

They were found, some eighteen long minutes later, seven minutes after four on the morning of what had been an unusually cool August night.

The book is opened, the pages are turned. Three months and six days later, the newest two-legged, fresh-faced members to join the K-9 division were introduced to their new partners, two bright-eyed Belgian Malinois Shepherd boys eager to get to work, ready to tread the beast of water. They were officers Trask and Oscar.

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