Suspect Online - Robert Crais

PROLOGUE

THE GREEN BALL

Maggie stared at Pete with rapt, undivided focus. His dark face was smiling, his hand was hidden inside the heavy green bulk of his USMC flak jacket, and he cooed to her in the high-pitched, squeaky voice she loved.

“That’s a good girl, Maggie. You’re the best girl ever. You know that, baby girl Marine?”

Maggie was an eighty-five-pound black-and-tan German shepherd dog. She was three years old, and her full name was Military Working Dog (MWD) Maggie T415, the T415 being tattooed on the inside of her left ear. Corporal Pete Gibbs was her handler. He had been hers and she had been his since they met at Camp Pendleton one and a half years ago. They were now halfway through their second deployment as a patrol and explosives-detection team in the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.

Pete cooed, “We good to go, baby girl? You gonna find the bad thing for daddy? You ready to work?”

Maggie’s tail thumped the dirt hard. This was a game they played often, so Maggie knew what was coming, and lived for the joy of this moment.

Al-Jabar Province, 0840 hours, the Republic of Afghanistan. It was 109 degrees, and would reach 120.

The desert sun beat hard on Maggie’s thick fur as a dozen Marines unassed three Humvees and formed up in a loose column twenty meters behind her. Maggie knew the other Marines, but they meant little to her. Pete was relaxed around them, so Maggie tolerated them, but only when Pete was near. They were familiar, but not pack. Pete was pack. Pete was hers. Maggie and Pete ate together, slept together, and played together 24/7. She loved, adored, protected, defended, and felt lost without him. When the other Marines came too close, Maggie warned them with a low growl. She had been bred to guard and protect what was hers, and Pete was hers. They were pack.

Now, this moment, Maggie was totally focused on Pete. Nothing else mattered or existed. There was only Pete, and Maggie’s joyful expectation of the game they were about to play, when a voice called out behind her.

“Yo, Pete. We’re good, bro. Roll out.”

Pete glanced at the other humans, then smiled wider at Maggie.

“Wanna see it, girl? Wanna see what I got?”

Pete took a fluorescent green ball from beneath his flak jacket.

Maggie’s eyes locked on the ball, and she stood like a shot, up on all fours, whining for Pete to throw it. Maggie lived to chase the green ball. It was their favorite toy and her favorite game. Pete would throw it hard and far, and Maggie would power after it, chasing it down with a feeling of purpose and bliss; catch it, clamp it tight in her jaws, and proudly bring it back, where Pete was always waiting to shower her with love and approval. Chasing the green ball was her absolute favorite game, but now Pete showed her the ball only as a promise of the bliss to come. Maggie knew the routine, and was cool with it. If she found the smells Pete had taught her to find, she would be rewarded with the ball. That was their game. She must find the right smells.

Pete tucked the ball back under his flak, and his voice changed from squeaky to firm. He was alpha, and now he spoke in his alpha voice.

“Show me what you got, Maggie Marine. Find the bad things. Seek, seek, seek.”

Seek seek seek.

Maggie was trained as a patrol dog and an explosives-detection dog, making her a dual-purpose dog. She would attack on command, chase and apprehend fleeing persons, and was stellar at crowd control, but her primary job was sniffing out caches of ammunition, artillery ordnance, and roadside bombs. Improvised Explosive Devices. IEDs. The Afghan insurgents’ weapon of choice.

Maggie did not know what an IED was, but this was not necessary. She had been taught to recognize the eleven most popular explosive components insurgents used in their bombs, including ammonium nitrate, detonator cord, potassium chlorate, nitrocellulose, C-4, and RDX. She did not know these things could kill her, but this did not matter, either. She sought them for Pete because pleasing Pete meant everything. If Pete was happy, Maggie was happy. They were a pack of two, and Pete was her alpha. He would throw the green ball.

At Pete’s command, Maggie trotted to the end of her leash, which was tethered to a metal D-ring on Pete’s harness. She knew exactly what Pete expected because Pete had trained her, and they had