I wouldn’t say we sprinted back to the van, but we went pretty briskly. (The fact that I briefly forgot where I had left it is not relevant. And besides, our indirect route was really because I was checking that we weren’t being followed by evil fairies or the Brotherhood of Mutants. I didn’t have the faintest idea what I’d do if we were being followed, of course. I wasn’t sure either Serena’s or Bridget’s patience would stretch to the Brotherhood of Mutants. And I didn’t have Watermelon Shoulders’ phone number.) I didn’t want to see anything else that shouldn’t be there. Maybe living in Manhattan all my life till now had not prepared me well for life anywhere else. In Manhattan if you saw a huge black guy with a sword you thought, eh, fantasy convention, they’re shooting a movie, on his way to tai chi class, he’s the local probably harmless loony and the cops (probably) know about him. In New Iceland you see a huge black guy with a sword and you wonder what they’re putting in the water. No, wait, it wasn’t a sword. I had established that it was not a sword. (I wasn’t sure how I had established it, but it was established. No swords on the streets of New Iceland. It was probably in the town charter: one musket per able-bodied adult. No swords.)
And Topaz, the horse, the burgundy velvet? They were putting something in the water. Or Mr Wolverine, cranky at my non-return of phone calls, had told his secretary to put a hex on me. I spent a little time imagining Darla’s to-do list: Buy coffee. Pick up dry cleaning. Disembowel senior partner, preserve organs for future use, possibly toward spell to run new district attorney out of town. Set vengeance demons on non-paying clients. Put hex on that feeble little hack so-called writer who doesn’t answer phone calls. Surely this last was hardly worth the trouble. I hoped. Because I wasn’t ringing him back today either, so if I was lucky Darla was fully occupied with the evisceration and the district attorney. I had a house to move into and a dog to feed up. I could deal with the occasional outbreak of burgundy velvet if I had to. But I’d have to hope that Sid and Watermelon Shoulders would continue to deal with Mr Melmoth. I really did not like Mr Melmoth. I might like him even less than I liked Mr Wolverine.
The van started at once, as if it were eager to be gone. It probably was. I had begun to suspect that beneath the exterior of screaming skulls there beat the heart of a plastic roller skate. We bumped back into the parking lot of the Friendly Campfire and Sid, sitting up very straight in the passenger seat, didn’t even pant this time. Progress. “So, how about if you stay there a minute?” I said. I reached across her to roll the window down enough that she could get her nose out but not so far any of the rest of her could follow.
I took the steps to the porch two at a time, hurtled indoors, took a fast look around, told the ratatouille on the walls that I wasn’t going to miss it at all and looked gloomily at the amount of stuff I had somehow managed to accumulate in less than forty-eight hours. Although my major acquisition was sitting on the passenger seat of the van, which was why, plus the space I needed for what I was about to buy at the pet shop, there was now so much on the floor of cabin seven. And which major acquisition and causer of tumult I did not wanting eating the armrest padding or the seatbelts, which fear was the cause of this unseemly speed. (That, and the fact that six o’clock was ticking relentlessly nearer.) I wondered if Mike would still be offering me Merry if he’d known about Sid. No, wait, from what Serena said of his family—yes, probably. Maybe she could show her appreciation by not eating Merry’s armrests or seatbelts either.
As I locked the cabin door again I looked for Sid, who was still sitting bolt upright and staring through the windshield at me. I couldn’t see any tell-tale threads trailing from her jaws. Excellent. I went past on her side to the back of the van and opened the doors . . . and then spent a few minutes muttering under my breath while I attempted to recreate a rosebush-in-a-pot-sized hole, which is a tactically different shape than a large-amounts-of-dog-food-sized hole.
I came to myself abruptly in response to a small pathetic whine from the front of the van. Sid had had plenty of time to eat both seatbelts and the dashboard. . . . But she hadn’t. “Good girl,” I said, and gave her a piece of cheese because I felt like it. Don’t respond to your dog if it cries, because it will learn that crying gets it attention. I’d become a responsible dog owner tomorrow.
I turned at last to my rose-bush. “Okay, honey,” I said. “We’re going . . . home.” I picked her up, staggered down the length of the van again, plopped her in the (almost big enough) space, and gently closed the van doors on her.
I climbed into the driver’s seat. “We’re off,” I said. “Help.”
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