This was going to be my preliminary shot at finding out if Sid was willing to be compatible with modern American internal-combustion engine transport—or not—before we committed to the drive to Cold Valley. And back. Twice. Like I had another choice if the answer was no. We were going to take a lap around downtown in the van till I found a long enough piece of street to park it on, and then walk to Eats.
I felt like a cartoon villain as I opened cabin seven’s door and looked cautiously in all directions. All I needed was the black fedora. I thought the curly moustache would probably have been going too far.
There wasn’t anyone visible. There were two cars parked by the office, so Serena was fully occupied. I hoped that whoever they were, they didn’t come out in the next few minutes. Sid looked a lot worse in daylight.
“All right, kiddo,” I said. “You’re on.” I took her lead off the bathroom door handle, shouldered my knapsack, and we went down the cabin steps and around to the passenger side of the van. I opened the door. I’d never really contemplated what an ominous noise a car—or van—door makes. I wondered if this would be true on an Aston Martin or a Rolls Royce. I wasn’t likely ever to find out. (I was carefully not thinking about Merry. When we got to Merry—if we got to Merry—I might have to knock out the rear window glass, persuade Sid to vault into the truck bed and climb through the empty window. I wasn’t thinking about Merry.) Sid stood politely, awaiting developments. This was at least a lot better than setting off at speed in search of a vehicle-free environment. The red leather lead looked pretty sturdy, but I wasn’t so sure about my shoulder. “Hup,” I said, without much hope, patting the seat.
Sid continued to stand politely, not recognising this as a development. I still had the cheese in my pocket. I checked. Sid immediately became very interested in my right hand. I heaved my knapsack into the passenger side footwell, climbed into the van myself and hadn’t finished crawling over the gearshift when I was slammed into by a hairy black torpedo. “Hup,” I said breathlessly. “Ow. I mean, good girl.” I gave Sid a piece of cheese. She sat down. I leaned past her to pull the door closed.
It didn’t want to close, of course. “Liver flukes,” I said. “Parasitic wasps. Maggots.” Sid pricked her ears. I snapped the passenger seatbelt closed, looped the lead through it a few times and then back through Sid’s makeshift harness. “Wait,” I said, slid out the driver’s side, closed the possessed-by-demons passenger door from the outside, and climbed back in behind the wheel. Sid watched me. The way her head was swivelling I considered the possibility she might be part owl. That might help explain the incompetently-felted effect.
I turned the engine on. Thubba thubba thubba it went. Sid sat up a little straighter. I backed up, turned around, and headed for the exit. She started to pant a little as we bumped over the ramp and the curb, but she didn’t offer to bite anything. Me, for example. Thy new companion is swift and loyal and high-couraged. Oh, shut up.
We found an empty half a block in a parking zone after only a minute or two, and it only took me another minute or two to swan into it, like an oil tanker docking. Arrrgh. Sid emerged onto the sidewalk with alacrity but no apparent ill effects. We set off in an Eats-ward direction. I hoped we didn’t meet anyone likely to know me in the future, and peg me on first impression as a criminally incompetent dog-owner. For that matter I hoped we didn’t meet any other dogs. One thing at a time. I was happy to wait to find out what Sid’s attitude toward others of her species was.
I felt like a traitor as she pricked her ears and trotted happily down the little corridor beside Eats. Bridget had been watching for us, and came out the courtyard door as we arrived. She had two muffins on two plates in her hands. “What do you think she would prefer, oatmeal banana or apple bran? It’s early in the day for meatloaf and I was trying to think of the nearest dog-biscuit equivalent.”
“Oatmeal banana,” I said, “although I may be projecting.”
“Fine,” she said, and sat down at the table Sid and I had been sitting at less than two hours ago. “I’m in the mood for apple bran.” She looked at my face and grinned. “You’ve got it bad, don’t you? We’ll be fine alone together for five minutes. Just hand me the lead and walk away like it’s no big deal. Although you might just close the gate behind you.”
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