Chapter Six: The Disappearance
By the time Daisy knocked the phone off the cradle, Sandy and Billy had joined in the melee. Their barking could be heard throughout town, and nearly across the width of the Neuse River. The two women in their golf carts had stopped talking and stared at the dogs disapprovingly.
“Goldeh, cum he-uh, you bay-ud dawg!” Miss Gaye said quietly in her rich drawl. Goldie did not hear.
Daisy held her mouth to the receiver and whispered, “What? Is that you Sky?”
A hiss answered her. Then Jacques’s voice spoke. “It’s me. The dog pack is reaching level seven in the park.” Dogs have scales to gauge their pack’s energy levels. Level one means all dogs are sleeping soundly. Level ten indicates all pack dogs are rabidly chewing on a carcass of pitiful unknown origin, and as a group they’re unaware of anything else in the universe in their demented euphoria. Level seven was worrisome.
“How many dogs?” Daisy inquired.
“Six, I believe, by last count,” he said. “Oh, wait. Here come some more.” Jacques left the phone and called to Sky, “Who else just arrived? I hear fresh voices.”
Sky yowled and spat. “It’s those Chihuahuas, Sissy and Sassy.” Sky cleaned herself vigorously. She combed her front paws with her tongue and scratched her nose soothingly. Sissy and Sassy! Sassy and Sissy! she mewed. Then she purred deeply, imagining having one or the other of them between her paws. Prrrrrrrh, she said, closing her green eyes into slits.
“Sky,” Jacques cautioned her. “Behave yourself.”
Back at the telephone, Jacques hollered to Daisy, “Sissy and Sassy too. That makes at least eight.”
“Sissy and Sassy? That’s not their names.”
“Well, whoever they are. The two yappy pups.”
They don’t count, Jacques,” Daisy reminded him. “You know that. They don’t talk.”
“They bark,” he said.
“Yes, but nobody understands them,” she replied. “Alright. The pack is agitating.” She shifted her position on the armchair. “Oh wait! The men are coming out of the store. The sailor is laughing. He’s handing Pete some money and pointing to the outboard at the bottom of the front steps of the boat store.” Silence. “Now he’s walking across the street, down Water Street into town.”
“Not to the Coffee Cup? That’s unusual.”
“Nope. Not the Coffee Cup. Isn’t this guy new in town? Who would he know down Water Street, away from the harbor?”
“I don’t know.”
“Somebody better tell the new dog,” Daisy said. “He’ll be looking for his man.”
“Not me. I don’t go outside.”
“Get Sky to call him, tell him his man’s leaving.”
Jacques heaved a sigh, a large, Corgi-chested sigh. Sky wouldn’t like this.
“Sky!” he called. “Sky, we need your help!”
Nothing. Sky had vanished.
“Sky! There’s a treat for you if you help!”
Nothing. The cat had done her cat thing. She was one of the few magical cats that can disappear for days on end. Humans only know they’re still alive because of the litter box.
“Alright, Sky! You can sleep in my bed tonight. Just This Once!”
Miraculously, the feline appeared from thin air on the kitchen floor next to him. She poised one paw in the air, licking it in a leisurely fashion.
“You must get a message to a dog out there in the park.”
“There are a hundred dogs in the park, all of them insane. Can’t you hear them?” Sky asked, and paused to let the cacophony from across the street fill the kitchen air.
“Cat, stop being an irritant,” Jacques said. “There’s a new dog over there, and his man’s gone walking about town. He might lose the man, and we all know what trouble that will cause.” Jacques looked her straight in her green eyes and lowered his voice seriously. “Just pop open the little window in the living room, and call one of them over. I know you can do it. You do it all the time.”
“That’s my fresh air window. I don’t use it for calling dogs.”
“Sky, it’s an emergency.”
“It’s an emergency to you.” She turned her face away disdainfully and yawned toward the refrigerator.
“Do you want to sleep in my bed or not?”
Sky coughed and spat out a tiny hairball. “Ah, that’s better,” she said. “Oh, alright. But you owe me one!”
She glided across the wooden floors to the dark living room, leaped onto the leather sofa, perched on its arm and fiddled mysteriously with the latch of a small window, working it slowly with her nose and her nails. Jacques watched. The latch clinked and clanked, and Sky huffed and whined. At last it gave way, and the window swung open silently.
She glanced at the dog. “Prepare yourself,” she said.
Then Sky emitted such a piercing yowl that, had her lady been at home, the entire house would have erupted into such a frenzy of screaming and throwing things and cat-chasing and thrusting of cats into small cat carriers, that the day would have been ruined. As it was, the lady was at the hardware store and Jacques alone bore the ear-splitting caterwauling.
The rumpus in the park ceased instantly. Only the twin Chihuahuas, sitting in their man’s bike basket dressed in matching pink dresses, continued to yap a stream of unintelligible gibberish.
“Hush!” Goldie scolded them. They did.
Sky yowled again. “Pack Call!” she said. The dogs, as one body, bolted across the street, over her grass, and stood shivering below her window.
Sky eyes them disdainfully. She disliked talking with dogs generally. Jacques was an exception, because he was an exceptional dog. These dogs were vermin. She spat lightly at them.
“Hiss. There’s an emergency, dog pack. New dog, your man has gone walking.”
“Oh no,” Billy sighed.
“Oh yes,” Sky said. “And by the looks of those rain clouds, you’d better hurry and find him before the water washes his scent off the streets.” She turned away.
Billy studied his new friends. “I’m a retriever. I have a terrible nose. If he has a head start in the rain, I’ll never find him!” His deep dog voice sounds so sorrowful, Sandy’s and Bonnie’s and even Goldie’s hearts began to break.
“We need a hound dog,” said Spencer.
Chapter Seven: Maggie to the Rescue!
Maggie woke from her romantic dream with Billy when the sailor dog himself nosed her in the ear.
“Maggie! Maggie, wake up!” he whispered.
“Mmm. I’m sleeping.” Maggie sighed as the sailor dog-of-her-dreams licked her dreamily on the nose. “Oh, love! You’re so handsome!” she whimpered.
“Maggie!” he said, forcefully. Her eyes flew open. And there he was! Licking her ear! The sailor dog himself! Maggie coughed, rolled over, stared at him.
“You! What’re you doing here?” She shook a little in her embarrassment. “How do you know my name?”
Then six other voices began rumbling and barking and whining at once. Maggie looked around. It was a dog pack to-do!
“What in the world …?” she began.
And they all explained at once.
“Hush!” Maggie exclaimed. She wasn’t usually so forceful, but the general chaos was getting on her nerves. She looked at Billy.
“Hello. I saw you on the river as you went by. What’s your name?
“Billy. Nice to know you. I’ve been palling around with this lot of mutts all afternoon. But we have a crisis, and we need your help,” Billy explained.
“You need me?”
“We need your nose,” Billy said.
Maggie’s heart dropped a little, but she braved herself and smiled. “At your service, Billy. What do you need me to smell?”
“I’ve lost my man, I’m afraid. And we’re on a boat and he has a terrible sense of direction on land. And it’s raining.”
“Problem #1,” Goldie interjected, “is Maggie’s invisible annoyance. Have you tried dashing through it lately, Mags?”
“Oh, ugh, I forgot about that.” Maggie turned back to Billy. “I’m sorry. I have a magical energy field around my property. I think it’s here for my protection, although clearly it doesn’t keep out dogs or squirrels. But it hurts when I run through it.”
“Oh, one of those,” Billy said. “Can we disable it? Anybody know how to do that?”
None of the dogs had those skills, but Spencer mentioned that Sky could probably manage it.
“She could reprogram that collar, or she could sneak in the house and turn off the controller.” Everybody looked at Spencer in disbelief. He shrugged his shoulders. “I’m just saying! She’s that kind of clever! I don’t like her, but she’s a wizard.”
Sandy voiced an opinion. “I don’t think Sky’s gonna want to help us anymore today. In addition to being a wizard cat, she’s also a grump. Jacques is a genius, but he doesn’t leave the house.” She looked from face to face. “Anymore ideas?”
The dogs thought in silence. Then Beauregard spoke up.
“Are your humans home, Maggie?”
“I think so.”
“Well, get ‘em to take you on a walk. They’ll get you out of the yard, and you’ll break free, and we’ll be waiting for you, and then we can get going on our mission!” Beau’s excitement grew with his plan, and he nearly jumped on Sandy’s back in delight.
“Walk? My humans don’t take me on walks. That’s why I have the entire yard at my disposal,” Maggie said. “But I can try. Y’all better hide over by the little beach next door while I get their attention. If they see a pack of dogs in the yard, they’ll know something’s up.”
It took ten minutes, but at last Maggie coerced her man out of his recliner, into his Bermuda shorts, sun-glasses on, leash in hand, boat shoes on, and out the door in the rain. They were barely out of the driveway before Maggie gave a shocking lunge, ripped the leash from her man’s hand, and dashed down First Avenue. He stood in the street, stunned. The leash smacked and clacked along the pavement behind her.
“Maggie! Maggie, you get back here!” he hollered. “Bad girl!” This hurt Maggie’s heart as she ran away. He’d never called her a bad girl before, even when she was a puppy and pooped in his slippers! But she had a mission, and Handsome Billy was involved, and she could not turn back. As she flew past the little beach, a dog pack scampered from the bushes and made after her. Maggie’s man stood speechless in the road, shaking his head.
The dogs didn’t stop until they got to the Coffee Cup.
“What next?” Bonnie gasped? Raindrops pelted their backs, and there wasn’t a human outdoors.
“We need something of my man’s for Maggie to smell,” Billy mused. “The dinghy! There’ll be something on the dinghy!”
And the seven dogs barreled down Water Street toward the dinghy dock. Daisy watched from the warmth and dryness of her lady’s armchair. She was drowsy, and her eyelids were barely open, but she noted the dog pack’s passage. And in her daily planner she scratched, “2:10 p.m. – dog pack in pursuit.”
Chapter Eight: Billy, Alone
In the relative calm and warmth of the hardware store, two men talked of important matters. One man had a pretty boat in the anchorage, a nice pram, a dead outboard motor, and a tumor growing in his abdomen. He also had a dog. The other man had a hardware store, a house, a wife, a store cat, and a barely-used recreational vehicle sitting in the parking lot. His wife was against diesel fuel and KOA campgrounds.
“She’s agin travelin’,” he said.
A deal was struck. The cat boat and the R.V. changed owners in a few minutes with a handshake. Billy, hunting frantically for his man in the rain along strange streets, did not know his life had just changed. He was no longer a sailor dog, and he didn’t even know it.
Maggie deeply inhaled the aroma of Billy’s man from his dirty t-shirt in the dinghy. “Mmmm,” she said. “Fine aroma. Combination of Gucci and Captain Black. Very distinctive.” And she was off!
Maggie led them to the end of Water Street, up Neuse Street, along Factory Street, down Church Street, right on Broad Street, and far away from the water. Billy was worried. His man didn’t usually go this far afield.
He trotted beside Maggie. “Hey, Maggie, I don’t think this can be right.” Billy panted and his mouth was beside her ear. Maggie had a hard time concentrating with him so close. “He would be nearer to the boat, I think. Are you sure you still smell him?”
“Yep,” Maggie replied. “It’s him. Nobody else in town smells like him.” She slowed down and walked past the real estate office.
“It just doesn’t feel right,” Billy murmured to himself. But he followed Maggie. They passed the village museum, the new sports bar, the hair salon on the other side of the road. At last they arrived in front of the hardware store. All seven dogs plopped their weary hind ends down on the pavement.
“Here!” Maggie said. “This is where he is!” She grinned at Billy, feeling wildly successful and deeply beautiful. Surely he would see how beautiful she was!
Sandy stood up suddenly. “There he is!” She pointed her nose. “Billy, there he is!”
Sure enough, Billy’s man was there, but he didn’t come from the store. He stood in the doorway of the R.V. in the parking lot. It’s motor was humming loudly. He waved cheerily at the store owner, smiling broadly. “Thank you!” he called. “Enjoy the boat! She’s a beauty!” Then Billy’s man turned, stepped into the R.V., sat at the wheel, backed the long vehicle into the lot, turned, and drove off. He turned onto Hwy. 55, heading to New Bern.
The dogs sat silently together. This was cause for great mourning. No one knew what to say. What does one say to one’s fellow dog when the man has driven away, leaving one alone, homeless? It was horrible, and they all felt it.
All the dogs wanted to tell Billy that he could come live with them – all of them! But of course, there were the humans to consider. Humans do not like strange dogs moving in. The discomfort in the dog pack was palpable. Beauregard began to squirm, and several of the dogs scratched mindlessly in places that required much twisting and digging of nails.
At last Goldie spoke up. “Let’s go back to the Coffee Cup, guys. The rain’s stopping. Should be about treat time.” The girls at the coffee shop tossed treats to them if they stood under the window and barked. It was good fun. “C’mon, y’all – treat time!”
So the dogs loafed and walked through the village toward the water. But the spring was gone from their step and the joy from their day. They all felt for Billy. What would he do? Would he be a homeless dog?
A few blocks into the village Spencer and Beau were distracted by a pair of squirrels and Goldie and Bonnie chased a bicycle. They barked and played. Sandy and Maggie, who rarely had a chance to chat, were deep in conversation about a litter of puppies born the previous week to a friend on Smith Creek. Thus it was that nobody noticed when Billy was gone. They arrived at the Coffee Cup, looked for him, and realized he had disappeared. Billy, their new friend, was gone.
Dogs are highly empathetic creatures, but once a situation is has reached its bitter end, they don’t dwell on it. As best they can, they shrug off the sorrow, and are cheerful and resilient. Maggie thought Billy had probably gone back to the hardware store to sniff for more information. Goldie was convinced he’d gone back to the boat store to wait. Beau declared he was probably crying pitiably in a ditch somewhere, which made everyone sad to think of. But Daisy knew exactly where he was. She saw when Billy veered off from the pack and took Academy Street. She watched him walk softly but intently toward the harbor. And she could just barely see Billy as he jumped into the dinghy and loosened the line. Daisy slipped her daily planner from under the cushion and scribbled a new entry: “3:38 p.m – new dog in dinghy alone.” She shook her head sadly. Billy was a boat dog, and on a boat he would find his man, if it was the last thing he did!
Daisy called Sky. Sky told Jacques. Jacques pestered Sky until she yowled to the pack as they walked past the park again, taking Maggie home. Thus the whole town of animals knew that Billy the sailor dog was on the river alone, without food, without water, looking for his man. What loyalty! What doggedness! An hour later Jacques, from his vantage point upstairs by the front dormer window, saw Billy sail past in the little pram, a tiny canvas thrust bravely toward the darkening sky, the tiller in his mouth, a courageous gleam in his eye. Jacques woofed! in acclaim. Sky hissed in the darkness of the living room. She’s had quite enough dogs for one day.
Chapter Nine: A Watery Adventure
Upon returning home, Maggie found herself under house arrest. She lay atop the old couch in the den, chin and paws on the window ledge, watching the water. Billy’s boat still bobbed along, but it moved slowly up the Neuse away from her toward New Bern. Every few minutes Maggie heaved a large, hound-dog sigh. He cheeks flapped pitifully. Her owners wondered what was the matter with her.
Bonnie went home with her lady. Goldie lounged by her backdoor after supper. Spencer and Beau parted ways for the day, and all dogs were back home. Jacques and Sky snoozed in the den. Their lady was back inside from pruning rose bushes. She chatted on the phone with a friend.
“I was down there today, matter of fact. My pruners died last week …. Yeah … yeah …. I heard about that …. Did you know?”
Jacques snored softly. Sky whiffled.
“Uh huh. He did. He sold it. After all that trouble! She never knows what she wants, and I bet you anything she won’t like sailing! Uh huh …. Yep, I was there. Sold it to a guy off a boat ….”
Jacques ear tickled and flickered.
“It was the saddest thing. Cancer. Pretty bad. He needs treatment, and of course he has to have a place to live, and a vehicle. The motor home seemed like a good idea …. Yeah. Yeah, he’ll be around. Sweet old fellah …. Uh huh. I hope he remembers how to drive! He was listing a little to the left …. Haha! Alright. Seeya!”
Jacques, fully awake, knew it must be the same man. So, he was sick! He was sticking around! Billy wasn’t abandoned! He, Jacques, must do something! He glanced up at the lady. How could he do anything while she was sitting there? And besides, what could he do? How could they reach Billy to tell him this news, when he was sailing down the river?
I need a dog on the river, he thought. Molly. Molly’s the girl!
Molly was a water dog through and through. Part Schipperke by birth, she’d been on the water every day of her life. Jet black and fiery-spirited, Molly had little patience with Oriental’s canine drama, but when emergencies arose she was a rock. The problem was, Molly was hard to get hold of. She was hardly ever at home.
Jacques rumbled deeply in his throat.
“You already had supper, Jacques,” his lady said.
He rumbled again.
“Need to go tee-tee?” she inquired.
Jacques sighed. He stood and ambled slowly over to Sky.
“Leave the kitty alone, Jacques. You know how she is in the evenings.”
Jacques lay down near the cat, with his mouth a few inches from her ear, and he communicated in that way only animals can, nearly silent, and indiscernible to humans.
We need Molly. Did you hear what the lady said? Billy’s man is sick. He’s seeing the vet. He’ll be back. We need to find Billy! Here, Jacques’s voice rose a bit, and the lady looked up at her animals.
“They’re strange,” she murmured to herself.
Sky, you need to go tell Molly. Tell her to get on the water and find Billy. Tell him to come back to Oriental. His man will be back here, looking for him.
Sky yawned and stretched her skinny legs out. She curled her tongue at Jacques and winked.
“It’ll cost you,” she said. It sounded to the lady like a spitting meow. Sky grinned.
Jacques growled and showed his back teeth, a response uncharacteristic for him. “What’s your price?”
“You sleep downstairs. I sleep upstairs. For a week,” she replied.
This was unheard of. The upstairs was Jacques kingdom and he its benevolent dictator. When Sky had the audacity to creep up the stairway, gliding from spindle to spindle as cats do, Jacques faithfully barked an order, thundered down the stairs, and chased her to her own domain, the gloomy living room. She got couches; he got beds. It was the house rule. Jacques cringed inwardly to think of the shame of his ousting – for a week!
“No one must know.”
“Yes, if you tell no one.”
“Deal, cat. Keep your promise.” And his back lips quivered.
Moments later, Sky leaped up, rubbed her back against the sliding glass door, and the lady let her outside. In the grayness of early evening she dashed from tree to house shadow to ditch to shrubbery, making her way across the village to Whittaker Canal. Molly lived at the watery end of a cul-de-sac in a tall blue house with a dock and three boats. Sky howled from the porch railing.
Molly was a free dog. She came and went through a doggie door, stayed out all night if she preferred, slept all day on the man’s bed if she liked, lolled about in boats to her heart’s content. Her human considered her eminently trustworthy.
“What do you want, cat?” Molly asked. Sky jumped in fright. Molly, black as night, was hidden perfectly in the gloomy shadows of the porch furniture.
“Oh! It’s Jacques. He sends a message.”
“Alright. Spit it out,” Molly sniggered.
“You must go on the river as soon as possible. A sailor dog named Billy is aboard a small vessel alone, heading toward New Bern. He searches for his man, who is sick and seeing the vet, but will return to Oriental. Billy needs to come back.” Sky spat the last word out, turned, whisked her tail, and disappeared.
Molly’s body stiffened. A mission! A watery adventure! A dog in distress! Wooffff! she said. Woooof, woooffff!!
Seconds later a man emerged from the house in a rush, hat in hand.
“What is it, girl? We going somewhere?”
“Woof, woo-woof,” Molly instructed.
“Right you are. Let’s go.”
Molly and her man had a bond unbreakable. They barely needed words. The man asked questions and Molly answered. A simple yes or no, or this way or that way sufficed. Fifteen minutes later, man and dog were headed southwest on the river in a shallow powerboat with a bright searchlight on the bow and a bell clanging on the stern. The afternoon rains had brought gusty winds and choppy waters. Molly stood on deck, black ears erect, eyes piercing the night. Schipperkes have excellent balance.
“Are we lookin’ for a boat, Mol?” he asked.
She answered in the affirmative.
Again, she affirmed.
“Man or dog?” This fellow was no slouch. He understood dog thinking. The game of twenty questions continued as they searched through the night.
Thus, by the time they found Billy along the south side of the river among grasses and low trees, the man knew what to expect. They spotted him by his sail. The little boat was upturned, the tiller broken, the sail ripped but flapping from a tree branch. Billy lay with legs in water and head on shore, bedraggled and filthy, barely alive. The water was cold. They’d searched for most of the night and were weary, but Molly’s man kept a well-stocked cabin with extra line, life vests, flashlights, blankets, tea kettle, heating pad, dog food, and fresh water, just for emergencies. He lashed the boat to a sturdy trunk, and as it bobbed erratically he stepped out, lifted the beautiful dog, whispered into his ear that everything was okay, and carried him back to the powerboat. The night was chilly, but the cabin was warm. He and Molly warmed the dog, dried his fur, rubbed his legs, and Molly told him, as clearly as she could, why he must return to Oriental.
But Billy was in a delusion of cold and anxiety.
“Must … find … my man! He’s lost … must … find … him!”
Molly turned her face to her man. “Woof, woofwoofwoof.”
“Alright, girl. You stay with ‘im. I’ll get us home.”
Chapter Ten: Billy on Land
The next morning dawned clear and lovely, but by 9:00 a.m., the town was in an uproar. Of the dogs in the pack, only Jacques remained at home, and that only because his gout was acting up. He’d done his usual nip-and-tuck procedure outside, and was back in bed. However, Sky was tiptoeing along her lady’s fence rail, Sandy and Beau were unearthing small rodents at the Wildlife Ramp, Spencer and Bonnie were bounding down South Avenue with Bonnie’s lady in hot pursuit, Maggie had succeeded in pulling her collar off with the help of a useful azalea branch and was sneaking across the street to Goldie’s porch. And Molly was standing on her front porch, thundering at the top of her ten-pound voice to anyone who might hear: “Billy’s over here!”
Goldie heard it first, and told Maggie. Maggie barked it toward the park and roused Jacques, who coerced Sky into calling Bonnie and Spencer, who ran to the bridge and beckoned Sandy and Beau. Daisy heard the news faintly as she sat on a pillow in her old lady’s trike basket. In fifteen minutes the whole crew (except Sky and Jacques, of course, and Daisy, who couldn’t get out of her basket) were standing in Molly’s front yard, panting, drooling, huffing, and barking a chorus of confusion.
“STOP!” hollered Molly.
The dog pack continued to pant, drool, and huff, but the barking ceased.
“Billy’s alright. He had a rough night, but the man and I found him and brought him home.”
“Is he alright?” Maggie asked.
“How’s his boat?” Beau inquired. “That was a mighty cute sailing pram. I was gonna offer ….”
“Hush up, Beau,” Sandy said to him. “You’re so clueless sometimes.”
“Molly, is he in the house?” Maggie asked. “I’d sure like to see him.”
“He’s sleeping in the cabin of the little powerboat, Mags. We didn’t want to move him.” And before she could tell them otherwise, several of the dogs bolted for the dock. Maggie was at the head. All she could think of was Billy. Billy, the handsome sailor dog! She would see him again! And The pack raced down the dock toward the boat. Maggie’s long carried her fastest and she leaped from the dock onto the boat. It sloshed and rocked in the slip. Bonnie, Spencer, and Beau followed, one after another hitting the deck. From below in the cabin, they heard a groan.
“Can’t a fellow get any sleep around here?
Beau, being the littlest of the troop, jumped through the companionway and onto the berth where Billy was resting.
“Hey, you smell great this morning, Billy! That’s some kind of plant life you got on your belly!”
The rest of the dogs crawled or jumped, or otherwise fell into the cabin and came to give Billy a happy lick and nuzzle. Only Goldie remained above. She didn’t do boat cabins. “Moldy, cramped places,” she said to herself. “A yard is so much better.” She was a land dog through and through.
“Hey, Maggie!” Goldie hollered at her friend. “Guess what?”
“What?” Maggie asked, looking up.
“You went on the dock!”
And all the dogs shouted, “You went on the dock! Great job, Maggie! You’re not afraid after all!”
Maggie’s muzzle turned red. She was mortified. Now Billy knew her most awful secret. How would a sailor dog ever look twice at a girl who was afraid of walking on a dock, much less a boat? But Billy looked warmly into her eyes.
“Good girl, Maggie. I’m proud of you,” Billy said to her. “You’re the best!”
Sandy filled Billy in on all that they’d heard about his man. With Molly’s help, they climbed out of the cabin with a long 2x8 piece of oak. Billy hated to go anywhere looking as untidy as he did, so the other dogs, even Sandy agreed to roll in river muck, chew on a few dead fish, and otherwise bedeck themselves in a similar manner so Billy wouldn’t feel out of place. They were a derelict, motley crew walking down South Avenue past the park. Sky called to Jacques.
“Wake up, old geezer. All your buddies are out on the road, looking worse than ever. Don’t they ever wash themselves?”
Daisy was back on her armchair with her daily planner in paw. She was pleased. Walking toward her on Hodges Street were all the dogs, Billy and Maggie in the lead. She’d never seen them looking uglier, nor happier. Anyone standing on the porch of the Coffee Cup saw eight dogs slathered in mud, prancing toward the boat store, their hind ends wagging cheerfully. A bell rang as Pete opened the door on the corner of the boat store. He stepped out and looked down fondly on the dog pack.
“Well! There you are! And you must be Billy. I’ve heard a lot about you, old man. Your fellah will be back in a few days, we hope, but till then, you’re staying here with me, okay?”
“Woof!” Billy answered. He moseyed up to Pete and put his head under Pete’s hand, panting lightly and smiling. He liked Pete. He lapped up a drink from the fresh water bowl on the stoop. Then Billy noticed the welcome mat in front of the door. How nice! he thought. And he began to lift his leg.
In unison, the dog pack shouted, “No Billy!” His leg paused in midair, and he looked back at them.
Pete smiled. “Ah, sorry about that, old buddy. On land, we don’t use mats. You’re gonna have to get accustomed to using the grass like everyone else.” And he laughed.
“Woof!” Billy answered, and the dogs ran down the stairs and down Water Street to the dinghy dock and the water. It was a new day with a new friend in town, and lots of doggish fun to be had.
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