Marked Territory – Snippet 14

The new dog had stopped in his tracks just past the corner of the church, and he was eyeing me warily. He was a mottled tan, with a wrinkled forehead that made him look thoughtful instead of fearsome. He also had ears that made him look like a close cousin to a bat. He might have been a basengi mix, but if that was the case he was on the small side for his breed, which put him solidly in my weight class. I flexed my paws and clacked my teeth, circling back around as the new dog decided what he was going to do now that there was another player in this drama.

“What the hell,” Frank muttered, waddling around the corner. His eyes went to the Yorkie, who was shakily pulling himself back to his feet. Then he looked at me, his eyes narrowing, and his dewlaps drawing back. The cut I gave him last night was clean, but it looked like it still hurt. “You.”

“Sloppy work, Frankie,” I said, shifting my gaze from Frank, to his silent companion, to the battered Yorkie. “Rolling up in here without checking to see who was around.”

“This ain’t your fight,” Frank said. “And this ain’t your turf. Clear off!”

“Got a counter-offer for you, Frank,” I said. “You and your boys head out the way you came, and we’ll call this over with. You might get me in a rush, but you’re gonna leave your share of blood on the ground before you do.”

Frank didn’t say anything else. He squared his shoulders, and lowered his head, bringing his vulnerable parts as low to the ground as he could. His growl went deeper, down into his chest. The Yorkie barked at me, favoring his left side. The basengi hung back, making sure I didn’t get past the other two and dash back out the front before they could catch up with me. I rolled my shoulders and laid back my ears. Behind me, I heard Taggart limping around the other side of the church, out of sight.

“All right, if that’s the way you want it,” I said. “Come and get it.”

Frank and the Yorkie split up, each of them circling to one side so that I couldn’t keep my eyes on both of them at once. It was a smart move, but the dirty white dog was too eager to get some of his own back. I feinted at Frank, and when the Yorkie came in with his teeth bared, my swipe caught him above the eye. Blood quickly stained the fur a dark red, half-blinding the dog before he could round on me again. Frank saw his chance and took it. His claws dug into the turf, shooting him forward. He got his teeth into my flank, and even though I pulled away, I felt them dig furrows down my side. I hissed at him, and the dachshund gave me a bloody smile.

“Had your chance, kitty cat,” he growled. “Now you’re mine.”

I let Frank have it, then. I went for his face, raking both sets of my claws down his muzzle. I caught his scarred cheek, and tore it open. He bit at my paw, but I still had my claws out, and he let go before I tore open the inside of his mouth. He went for my neck, but caught mostly ruff when he bit down. I answered with a bite of my own, catching the meat on the side of his neck and sinking my teeth in hard. Frank yowled. He tried to dig at me, but his legs were too short to get any traction. He ducked down, trying to pry himself out of my grip, but I came with him, twisting to the side to avoid his snapping jaws. Blood ran into my mouth, spurting around my hold and spattering Frank’s coat.

The fight was starting to go out of Frank when the basengi made his move. He got a hold of my scruff and pulled hard. I let go of Frank to save my skin from tearing, and pushed back into the silent mix. My head cracked into the dog’s nose, and he tossed me with a swing of his head. I went down hard, the dead grass crackling against my fur and stinging against the bite between my shoulder blades. I rolled onto my back, but before I could get up the tan hound was on me. His teeth were out, and the heat of his breath blasted into my face. I had him right where I wanted him.

I pushed my front paws up, jabbing the mutt under the jaw. He was strong, but my jab caught him off balance. He splayed his legs out wider, making sure I didn’t roll him, and that was when I sank my rear claws into his belly. I ripped and tore, hissing into his face. One of my claws caught a rib, and I felt a tendon strain, but I kept going. The basengi tried to pull away, but I held on, biting his nose while I gave him one, last slash across his midsection. With a whimper, he wrenched back. Blood dripped onto the grass as he stumbled away.

I got back to my feet, panting. The basengi was in bad shape, with blood running down his legs and face. Air whistled through where one of my teeth had driven through his nose, piercing it. The Yorkie wasn’t much better. He was unsteady on his feet and was shaking his head to clear his eye. Frank was up and snarling, but I’d gotten him good. His neck was swelling, and most of the blood on his coat was his own. I took a step forward. The Yorkie backed up, bumping the rear wall of the church. The basengi cringed, baring his teeth.

“This is your last chance, boys,” I said, a growl reverberating in my chest. “You can walk away with a limp, or you can not walk away at all.”

Frank took a step forward, blood and froth dripping from his muzzle. He noticed the other two weren’t coming with him, though. The Yorkie was sidling along the wall, keeping his good eye on the dachshund. Frank wheeled on the little dog.

“Where you going, Charlie?” Frank snarled.

“Ain’t worth it,” Charlie said, rubbing at his eye. He ran, ducking around the edge of the church at a fast limp. The basengi swallowed hard and looked at Frank. He didn’t say anything, but a moment later he turned and followed Charlie. Frank barked at them, but it was a hollow sound in the stillness. Like all the force had gone out of him without a pack at his back. The chain link clinked as first Charlie, then the other dog ducked back out to the street. Frank swung his head back to me, and I smiled.

“This ain’t over,” Frank said.

“You want it to be?” I asked, showing him my teeth. “I can arrange that.”

For a moment, it looked like Frank was going to try. Then he drew back, and shuffled off the way he’d come. He didn’t run the way his boys had, but it was a very fast walk all the same. I waited until I heard the fence clink angrily, before I let the tension drain out of my shoulders. I walked slowly around the far side of the church, tail down, taking long, slow breaths. My back foot was starting to hurt, and my neck burned where the basengi had tossed me. Still, I took a circuit around the building to make sure none of the mutts had doubled back to get the drop on me. I found Taggart crouching near a bush, tongue lolling. Some of the humor faded when he saw me, but not all of it.

“Well, you look like shit,” Taggart said.

“It’s all right, most of this isn’t mine,” I said, giving him a grin.

“You think they’ll be back?” Taggart asked.

“Maybe,” I said, heading across the front of St. Bart’s. “But I doubt they’ll be back today.”

“Amen to that,” Taggart said, following in my footsteps.