Monday, August 01, 2005


I bought a dog a few years back. Just a golden retriever pup, a little cutie. Looked like he couldn't harm a fly. In a fit of optimism I named him Wounder, the inflicter of grievous injuries, and my purpose in life was to train him to do just that. I had some scores to settle, you see, but I needed an absolutely loyal partner to help me settle them.

Golden retrievers are among the sweetest-tempered dogs you can ever know. They have a reputation for being great family pets, but terrible watchdogs. I wanted Wounder to transcend his genetically inscribed behavioral proclivities. I wanted him deadly. Friendly-looking, but fatal. To catch the unwary.

To this end, I started Wounder on a grueling regime. Sit, stay, heel, roll over, and fetch-- all the standard commands-- were mastered before he was a month old. We immediately moved on to more sophisticated commands: Somersault! Dodge the baseball! Combat crawl! Then I began adding martial arts moves to the syllabus. From Korean martial arts: sangdang-mak-go-mok-ch'igi! Dui-dollyeo-ch'agi! From Japanese martial arts: kotegashi! juji-uke! From Thai kickboxing: kao-dode! kao-loi!

We graduated to a Chinese weapons syllabus as Wounder began training with edged weapons, blunt weapons, and non-standard weapons like the Iron Comb. Wounder learned how to defend himself against multiple attackers and how to strangle people with piano wire. During the ninjitsu unit, he learned how to hang patiently upside-down-- completely immobile-- in the rafters of a barn for hours before plummeting onto his victim and snapping his neck with a quick, quiet wrenching motion. From goju-ryu karate, Wounder learned how to suck his testicles into his body to protect himself from groin kicks. He mastered the art of wielding two swords, a style favored by Miyamoto Musashi, the author of The Book of Five Rings. Wounder studied several varieties of yogic meditation, Zen meditation, and even developed a soft spot for the crazier elements of Catholic and Sufic mysticism.

When Wounder was a well-seasoned two years old, I took him to meet Edward Tarn, a quiet gentleman and retired (so he insists) sniper. Tarn is picky about whom he trains, and he was initially insulted when I asked whether he'd be willing to train a dog in the fine art of long-distance killing. The old man wasn't easy to convince, but once he saw Wounder stab a cow through the heart with a disciplined jab of his doggie tail, it was a done deal.

Tarn familiarized Wounder with a variety of rifles, scopes, and assorted assassin's equipment. Being a dog, Wounder didn't have optimal vision, so Tarn-- now quite enthusiastic about his protégé-- ground some new, canine-compatible scopes himself, and even taught Wounder an impressive list of close-in killing techniques.

Wounder passed Tarn's course with flying colors after acing a series of tests. First, he killed a whole warren of rabbits from a thousand yards out in high wind. Next, he went downtown and gave an entire office building hallucinations by releasing a gas in the ventilation system. Then, in what had to be the ballsiest move I've ever heard about, he loped right up to the city's mayor and urinated hydrochloric acid onto his right foot. I'm pretty sure Wounder didn't actually store the acid in his bladder, but somehow he made the delivery look like a dog taking a piss.

At two years and six months, Wounder was the deadliest dog alive.

Then it all went wrong.

You can't expect a beast trained as an assassin to remain totally loyal to you, especially after you swat its ass with a rolled newspaper. I did this one day, after Wounder had dragged himself in from a tiring workout on the "wooden man" he uses for his wing chun kung fu training. Wounder, still a dog in so many ways, had taken a break from training to root around the local trash cans. He'd eaten something that hadn't agreed with him but, ever the stoic, he'd gone back to train on the wooden man despite massive, crippling diarrhea.

I should've been more sympathetic, but I hadn't been in a good mood, either, that day. Wounder came into the house, ass caked in shit, and I let him have it with the rolled newspaper.

But Wounder wasn't about to take that indignity lying down. My reflexes are incredibly fast, which is how I could hit Wounder in the first place... but that was the last blow I landed on him for the next ten minutes. Wounder's attack was sudden and furious, and it took every ounce of training, speed, and sheer adrenaline to avoid the series of strikes he threw my way.

My Iron Palm was met by his Dragon Paw, followed by his Phoenix Fang. My well-placed ap-ch'agi was slipped and countered with a thrown flechette that had been hidden in the fur (where the hell had he gotten one of those?). I tried to close in with some Israeli krav maga techniques, but Wounder's hapkido training made short work of that. All my blows hit air. Wounder, true to his training, fought silently-- leaping, dodging, even crawling on the ceiling at one point. It was an amazing sight.

Wounder's tail strike impaled me through the upper chest, near the shoulder, and the pain was intense. A wild thought hit me: how was I going to explain the presence of dog hair inside my wound to the local hospital staff? But the pain gave me new energy, and after ten minutes of fighting I finally landed my own blow: I cut off one of Wounder's legs with a Chinese broadsword.

Knowing the battle was lost, Wounder immediately changed tactics, throwing himself through the glass of my living room's bay window, and charging three-legged into the gathering dusk. I sank heavily to the floor of my living room, pain radiating from my shoulder. Wounder and the wounded.

All hope of reconciliation had run out the window with my golden retriever. And I knew what Wounder would do. He'd stop the bleeding, give himself time to heal, maybe fashion himself some sort of artificial leg or doggie wheel, then stalk me. I doubted he'd come back the same night, so I slept. It was to be my final night of peaceful sleep.

Now I find myself on the run. I'm being tracked by a three-legged dog who's trained to kill me. He's got a superior sense of smell and far better hearing than I do. And he's a retriever. Finding things is what he was born to do, God help me.

But I'll be ready for him. I've got his number. What Wounder doesn't know is that he wasn't my only pet: I'd also been training an octopus... named Mangler.


No comments: