On a warm, still day, a 36-foot Nonsuch cat boat slid beautifully down the wide Neuse River past Maggie’s house. Maggie was, as usual, in the yard. She lay gazing at the water. On clear mornings with bright sun, the river sparkled with thousands of diamonds in a broad path across the water to dark woods on the other side, five miles away. Maggie dozed on and off. This day, as she emerged from a groggy dream about lunch, she saw the boat, and the sailor. He was majestically handsome, standing on the prow, face into the wind, whiskers ruffling back by his ears. She sighed. Maggie knew she was not a pretty girl. Nobody ever called her that. They called her good. But from this distance, even she, a long-faced plain girl, could stare at the handsome sailor to her heart’s content. A squirrel ran directly in front of her across the grass, and she didn’t notice, which was most unusual. And then the handsome sailor did something stunning. He picked up a bright red ball from the deck, threw it up into the air himself, and caught it! Maggie yelled in appreciation. The sailor looked her way, nodded his head, and smiled a little.
Then the boat glided on. Maggie sighed deeply. She was in love again. She stretched her long legs out on the grass, closed her eyes, and rested her chin on her paws. He was the finest specimen of a Golden Retriever she’d ever seen. She, a short-haired hound mix with a crooked tail, could never hope to attract his notice. Maybe he was coming into port. Maybe he’d be around town. Maybe he’d walk past her yard. He was a traveling man; she knew it from the way he gazed at the river. Maggie rolled on her side and dreamed of red balls and diamonds.
Just as she was about to step onto the sailor’s boat in her dream, somebody jumped on her back legs and said, “Hiya! Hey, Mags, wanna play? Huh? Let’s play!”
“Spencer, leave me alone! I’m napping.”
“You’re always napping. You’re getting old and fat.” Spencer burped. “Race you to the river!” And Spencer, a poodle/terrier mix with a shiny apricot coat, leaped into the air. “Maggie, get up!” Spencer jumped on Maggie’s neck and chewed on her jowl.
“Alright! Alright! I’m coming!” she said. “Your breath is disgusting this morning.”
“Yeah. Found an old mullet by the town dock.” Spencer licked his lips.
Maggie let out a deep woof! and dove at her friend. Spencer raced around the yard’s one live oak tree and turned to face her, head down on his paws, rump high in the air. Maggie ran at him full tilt, paws thrashing the grass, booming bark ringing across the water! She careened through the air at Spencer’s grinning face. At the last minute, he ran for the water’s edge, Maggie pounding after him. She outweighed him by thirty pounds and was twice as tall, but he zipped to the dock and raced down its length, his nails clicking on the cement, laughing as he ran.
Maggie screeched to a halt, her paws just brushing the dock’s edge. “No … fair …! You know I don’t do docks! Spencer, you cheated!”
He cackled at her, wagging his tail tauntingly. “C’mon, Mags! Chicken! I’ll give you all my treats for a week, plus Bonnie’s chew toy I stole, if you come out here!” His tongue lolled out the side of his mouth, and he grinned at her in defiance.
“I win! I win, I win, I win!” he howled, and trotted the length of the dock toward her. “You owe me. Three treats by next Tuesday, Mags, or I’m telling everybody you’re still afraid of the dock, after all these years.”
Maggie growled. “Whatever. These new organic treats are nasty anyway.” She plopped on the grass. Spencer nosed something under an azalea bush with great interest.
“Mmm. Bunny droppings.”
“You’re disgusting, Spencer, really.”
Chapter Two: Billy, The Sailor Dog
“Why do they call it a cat boat?” Beauregard asked Sandy. “I don’t see any cats on board.”
The two dogs sat side-by-side on the end of the town’s dinghy dock, watching the anchorage and the approaching sailboat as its owner took down the sails and threw an anchor into the water.
“I think it has something to do with the mast,” Sandy replied.
“The mast?” Beauregard yipped sharply at the man on board, warning him that a seagull was overhead. Pomeranians believe firmly that everyone needs a warning about everything, all the time. “Have you ever seen a cat up a mast?” He sniggered, leaning close to his friend. “Can you imagine Sky, up a mast? Ha!”
Sandy stiffened. “Beau, be nice.” She gave him a withering look. “Sky could eat you for breakfast, and you know it.”
“Yeah, well. She’d have to catch me first. And you are such a Sheltie!” he added.
At that minute, the sailor dog emerged from the cabin and jumped onto the deck. Even Beau, vain as he was of his fluffy coat and extensive tail, had to admit that this dog was a looker. He nosed the air, turned kindly toward his human, gave a friendly woof!, and raised his feathery tail. What a tail! It rose behind him like a banner, masses of lovely fur cascading down in a full arc, nearly meeting the brilliant feathers on his back legs.
“Wow!” said Sandy.
“Wow is right!” said Beau.
“I wonder if he’s coming off that boat,” Sandy mused.
“I wonder if he’s sticking around,” Beau said. “He could complicate things.”
“I’ll say,” Sandy replied.
A third dog met them on the dock. “Who’s that?” Spencer asked.
“Mr. Somebody,” Sandy whispered.
“He looks like a home-wrecker to me,” Spencer commented. “Too good-lookin’ by half. Has he introduced himself?”
“Nope,” Beau replied. “Hasn’t even looked our way. I bet he’s a snob. Anybody with a tail like that has to be a snob.”
“Ha!” Spencer barked. “You’re one to talk! You’ve got more tail vanity than any dog I know!”
This conversation ended with Spencer racing under the marina at the yacht club, Beau yelping and growling behind him. A tussle ensued with both dogs deep in mud.
Sandy remained on the dinghy dock, ignoring their childish antics. She was waiting for the sailor. He looked at her from the boat’s bow, and sent her a friendly, low woof! She yipped in reply.
“Billy,” the human said to him, “Bring me that line.” And the dog secured the coiled rope in his mouth and delivered it to the man. “Good boy.” They exchanged tail-wagging and head-patting.
In a few minutes Billy and his man came to the dingy dock in a little sailing pram.
|Beauregard and Sandy|
“Hi,” said Sandy.
“Hello,” replied Billy in a lovely, deep voice.
“Welcome to Oriental,” she said, “Best town anywhere for dogs. Been here before?”
“No, never. Nice dogs here?”
“Yeah, just about everybody. Watch out for Jake. He does road work, and doesn’t talk much.”
Billy stopped to scratch his ear. “Are the roads safe?”
“No! Isn’t that great?”
“Very nice to hear. What’s your name, by the way?”
“Sandy. And you’re Billy?”
“Nice to know you. We’re not here for long. On our way to the southern islands, I think.” He panted lightly and asked, “Any good nibbles nearby?”
“Ah,” said Sandy. “Up the street is the boat store. Fresh water bowl on the stoop. Down from there is the Coffee Cup, and their trash cans are generally good for a scrap or two in mid afternoon. How’s your human’s food?”
They walked along together, discussing all dogs’ favorite topic in tasty detail. Soon Spencer and Beau strolled up, caked in mud and river muck, trailing a little algae and reeking of dead fish.
“Oh my!” Billy said, and Sandy rolled her eyes.
“Billy, here are the two messiest dogs in town. And nearly the stupidest.”
“I beg your pardon!” Beauregard barked, and trotted more proudly, trying to raise his tail from its low-hanging, mud-plastered state. “I have the finest tail in town!” he said.
“I’m sure you do,” Billy replied graciously. “Well, must stick with my man. He’s a great sailor, but he has a terrible sense of direction on land and tends to get lost.” And he walked ahead.
The three friends watched as Billy trotted down Water Street beside his sailor. Billy raised his nose toward the beef aromas wafting from Mimi’s Restaurant. He whined a little at the smells coming from Fulcher’s Fish Works. And at the front porch of Mrs. Harris’s pretty little cottage, Billy paused briefly and raised his hind leg gingerly above her front door mat. A spray of yellow trailed through the air for a moment, and he walked on.
“Did you see that?!” Spencer yelped. “He just peed on Mrs. Harris’s door mat! Well, I never!”
All three dogs shook their heads. “Sailors are peculiar,” Sandy said.
Chapter Three: Daisy Makes a Call
When Daisy’s old woman went to the grocery on Tuesday mornings and the beauty salon on Friday mornings, Daisy got on the telephone. Thankfully her human didn’t believe in cell phones, but had an old-fashioned landline with a push-button array. Daisy kept one front nail long and firm, for calling her friends. This Friday morning, she called Sky. Daisy keeps all her dog friends’ numbers in the back of the old lady’s rolodex. Sky was the only cat.
Sky’s owner also leaves the house on Friday mornings to go to yoga class. When the phone rings then, Sky knows it’s probably Daisy. Sky leaps onto the kitchen counter and waits for the answering machine. When she hears Daisy’s voice, she knocks the receiver from the cradle.
“Yello?” she meowed.
“Sky. Daisy here. What’s happening on the river today?”
“You’re late calling, Daisy dear. I’ve been too busy with Mister’s shoes to bother with the front windows much today. Honestly! That man and his feet! The smells he produces are enough to drive a kitty crazy!” Sky yawned largely, shoving the knife block over and upsetting the toaster.
“Well?” Daisy persisted.
“Oh, alright.” The cat poked the button for speaker-phone, leapt to the floor, dashed under the dining room table and onto the window ledge. A manicured expanse of lawn stretched before her, and a narrow street, and the water’s edge. She turned her head and plastered one ear to the glass. Then she screeched these words back into the kitchen:
“Maggie is moaning. Clearly in love again. I hear Spencer and Beau fighting. Fish are involved as usual. Another voice, unfamiliar. Low, rumbling. Either a Golden Retriever or a Labrador. Male. Sandy is yipping. She sounds pleased, so he must be good-looking. Oh, and here comes Bonnie down the street with her woman. Third time this morning.”
“I thought you said you weren’t watching, something about shoes?”
“Whateveh. So,” Sky added huskily as she leaped to the phone again, “we have a visitor in town. Wonder who he is?”
“Sailor perhaps? Did you see any boats come in?”
Sky yawned loudly to let Daisy know she was being imposed upon. “Boats? Notice boats? What do you think I am, a watchcat? There’s been boats all morning! It’s warm and lovely out there, if you like that kind of thing.” She sniffed and looked longingly at her man’s slippers, hidden carefully under a large geranium in a pot. “Yes, I’ve seen boats, one or two. He might have come in on one of them. Is that all?”
Daisy paused. “I s’pose. Put Jacques on, please. I need to speak to him.”
“He’s upstairs. Hasn’t been down yet. He’s feeling particularly anti-social today, I’m afraid. And I’m not getting him down here. I am not his social secretary, you know!”
“Sky ….” Daisy growled lightly.
“Daisy!” the cat yowled in reply.
“What’s going on down there?!” a booming voice inquired from upstairs.
“Cat! Begone!” he bellowed, and Sky whisked away magically, disappearing instantly, silently. Jacques, unable to stand on his hind legs due to his healthy appetite and long habit of food thievery, howled toward the kitchen counter, “Daisy, is that you?”
“Yes, Jacques. It’s me.”
“Something’s afoot in town. Did you note the squirrel behavior this morning?”
“And the porpoise pods on the river yesterday afternoon?”
“And the porpoise pods.”
“And the ants. Did you make note of the unusual ant line patterns three days ago? It was most peculiar.”
“I did not. I need more lessons on that,” Daisy admitted. “I believe we must be vigilant for a couple of days, Jacques.”
“Agreed. I’ll watch the river. Sky will help.” A hissing growl emanated from the living room. “Well, Sky may help. You watch downtown. I don’t like this one bit, Daisy.”
“Could it be time for a Canine Concourse? It’s been quite a long time, Jacques, since anything demanded a concourse.”
“Heaven forbid! Let’s not be hasty, Daisy. No emergency yet.”
“Oh! My lady’s coming. Must run. Keep me posted!” And Daisy rang off.
Jacques stood on his short legs in the kitchen, his feet turned out and looking as if his socks were coming off. His black eyes twinkled in anticipation. The phone buzzed above him.
“Sky! Sky, get in here and hang up this phone! The lady will return in thirteen minutes exactly. Sky!”
In reply, she gave only a hiss and a yowl.
Chapter Four: Billy Goes Walking
Bonnie, a tall, long-legged, wiry dog of happy disposition, trotted past Maggie who was napping-in-yard, past Sky who was fighting a dust bunny under the sofa, past Spencer and Beauregard barking at squirrels in the park, past the Coffee Cup eatery on Hodges Street, right up to Sandy and Billy who sat outside the boat store with their chins on their paws. Billy’s man was inside, talking boats.
“Hiya, guys!” Bonnie was a Yankee dog. Her lady was from Long Island. “What’s up?” Bonnie grinned at Sandy and nudged her head sideways toward Billy as if to say, “Who’s the fellah?”
Sandy yawned. “Hi, Bonnie. This is Billy. He’s off a boat.” She turned to Billy. “Bonnie used to keep her lady on a leash, but now she’s got her on voice command. Those Yankees are tough to train, but Bonnie does a remarkable job.”
“Congratulations,” Billy said. “My man’s inside. I don’t own a leash for him. If I did, we could go somewhere more interesting!”
“Oh, if he’s a sailor, then he’s talking to Pete, and you’ll be here awhile.” Bonnie sat next to them on the store stoop. She licked her front paws affectionately and gazed at Billy. “There’s an old geezer that works in there with Pete. He came in on a boat too. Went in to talk about a new outboard and some rigging. By the end of the day, Pete hired him, and he never has left. His boat’s over at Whittaker Creek. Hasn’t been out sailing in over six months.”
“That’s horrible!” Billy declared, and stood halfway up on his front legs. “What’ll I do? I gotta get him out of there!”
“Oh, calm down,” Sandy said. “Bonnie, don’t exaggerate. Old Tom’s way past sailing. He must be 92.” She smiled at Billy comfortingly. “Besides, he doesn’t have a dog.” She nuzzled Billy’s shoulder and licked him on the ear in a friendly way. This was, of course, a sign to Bonnie that Billy was her particular friend, and Bonnie got the message.
“So, Billy,” she said. “What kind of boat do you have? Sandy here has a Cape Dory Typhoon. I’ve got a Pearson 28, not an especially pretty boat, I’m sorry to say, but she does alright.”
Billy replied, “I’m on a Nonsuch 36, a fine cat boat. Had her for seven years now.” He looked with greater interest at Sandy. “A Typhoon, eh? That’s a sweet boat. Do you go out on her often?”
“She’s on the hard right now, I’m sorry to say,” Sandy said. “My man’s working on her diligently though. I’m proud of him. None of this boat-in-the-yard-for-three-years behavior. I sit out there to encourage him along. We should be back on the water in a few months.”
Billy looked up and down Hodges Street, taking in the town dock, the old-fashioned cottages, the fish shack, the inn and marina, the old yacht club. It was a lovely town, for sure. The Coffee Cup sat at the center of it all across from the dock, a few bikes leaning nonchalantly against a picnic table out front and a handful of bandy-legged sailors on the porch talking about the evils of fiberglass repair.
“This is a nice town you got here,” he noted.
“Best town anywhere,” Bonnie and Sandy said together. They smiled knowingly.
“But I’d never want to settle down on land,” Billy added. “I’m a sea dog through and through.
The girls’ smiles sank. This was sad news. Then laughter erupted from inside the boat store. Billy stood up and poked his head inside the open door.
“He’s sitting down, drinking coffee, looking at charts. This could take a while,” he said.
Bonnie stood up as well. “C’mon, guys. Let’s get outa here and see what’s smelling up the town. You could sit here forever waiting on those men to finish, Billy.” You’ve got at least till afternoon treat time. Let’s go!”
In front of the Coffee Cup, they passed Jake. Jake, a medium-sized brown-and-white mongrel sporting a red bandana, lay in the middle of the street.
“He’s gonna get hit,” Billy said.
“Yeah, we know,” Sandy responded. “That’s Jake. He’s the speed bump.”
“The speed bump?” Billy asked. “You mean the cars stop for him?”
“Mostly,” Bonnie replied. “At least they slow down. Keeps the speed limit on Hodges Street to about 10 miles per hour.”
“I say! That’s remarkable! A dog who risks life and limb to do traffic control!”
Billy raised his eyebrows and stared at Jake. Jake stared back.
|Jake, the speed bump|
From her perch on her lady’s armchair, Daisy saw them ambling down Hodges Street away from her. New dog in town, she said to herself. That always stirs things up for a few days. The fact that the new dog was leaving his man alone in a strange town was not especially worrisome. But Bonnie – Bonnie will get that new dog into some trouble or other, I’ll bet my food dish on it! Daisy thought.
Daisy pulled her daily planner out from under the couch. On it she scratched the time – 1:37 p.m. – that Billy, Bonnie, and Sandy rounded the curve on Hodges and made their way toward the park and the river, where Spencer and Beauregard were now wrestling with minks among the rough rocks that line the water there. Across the street from their antics, Sky and Jacques were napping heavily in the warm afternoon.
Chapter Five: Dog Talk
Oriental is a dog-friendly town, and the park is dog central. As the three dogs from the harbor approached the grassy acre with its spread of live oak trees, another dog came from the opposite direction. Goldie, a retriever mix with a stout body and deep rusty color, weaved across the street in front of a golf cart. The cart crept along with an elderly lady at the wheel. Balloons and flags protruded from every possible point along the roof of the cart, and across the front and back were hung white signs that said, “Be Careful of the Dog!” The driver was Gaye Price, the town matriarch. Goldie took Miss Gaye riding each day for her health. Gaye and Goldie, both Oriental natives, owned the road, and basically owned the town. They were two females in whose good graces everybody wanted to reside.
Goldie emerged from a ditch that ran off the river. Low water levels meant the ditch was murky with sludge, and Goldie’s bottom half sagged with greenish-brown goo. Her tongue lolled from the side of her mouth. She shook happily, spinning river muck through the air.
“Goldie!” Miss Gaye admonished. “Stop that!”
Goldie ran to Bonnie. “Hey, Bonnie! Come see what’s in this ditch – smells fabulous!”
“Not today,” said Bonnie, raising her eyebrows and leaning her head meaningfully toward the handsome retriever next to her. “Billy’s in town. Say hello, Goldie.”
“ ‘Lo,” Goldie mumbled, without looking at Billy. The two dogs did the customary end-to-end investigation. Goldie glanced at Bonnie. “Stop being so fussy, Bonnie. You like a good ditch dig as much as I do. Where’s your lady?”
“Left her at the Coffee Cup. She’s had trouble with her through-hull. She’ll be there for hours.”
Goldie turned to Sandy. “Hey, San.”
“You free today? Where’s your man?”
“He’s recoring the boat deck today. Deep in fiberglass and epoxy for the week, I’d say. I got nothing to do.”
Finally, Goldie cut a glance at Billy. “New in town, huh? Where you from?”
“I’m from a boat. I haven’t lived on land in over seven years,” Billy replied stiffly. He knew a rude girl when he saw one. “I brought my man here for the day to get his outboard worked on. We’ll be leaving soon.”
“Hmm,” Goldie replied. “You’ve got a funny accent.”
“Goldie!” Sandy interjected.
“Well,” Goldie continued. “Welcome, for as long as you’re here.” She turned, heading to the park. “It’s a nice town, for those who like towns,” she said to him, over her shoulder.
Then she was off to the rocks with Spencer and Beauregard, who were howling in anger at a mink who’d escaped capture. Goldie joined into the fray. Bonnie whined in despair.
“Oh, go on, Bonnie. You know you want to,” Sandy said.
Bonnie bounded to the rocks. The ruckus from the water’s edge was immense. Miss Gaye edged her golf cart gently to the curb and opened her newspaper. Soon her neighbor Wanda joined her in a second cart and conversation grew regarding care of the local cemetery, whether Brentley Adams would keep running his restaurant or sell it again, and how well old Sarah Midyette was doing after her heart attack. Gradually the women’s voices increased in volume to match the dogs’ racket. They were shouting.
“You say he’s closing down?”
“No! It’s close to town!”
As the ladies bellowed at the curb, the dogs engaged in more frivolity. A family of minks had been discovered, and a particularly aggravating squirrel was cornered near the rocks. Beau and Goldie were barking wildly. Bonnie was leaping in the air. Spencer was chasing his tail. The din reached such a state that Sky woke from her nap with a screech and hid under the sideboard in the dining room. Even Jacques woke with a start.
“Hrrrmph,” he said. “Something’s up. Sky!” he bellowed. “Sky! Call Daisy!”
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