I tried to find a tree to hide the van under at the mall, but the parking lot was sadly unpopulated by any trees larger than broomsticks and the van was too big to hide behind a trashcan. I did park a little distance from where I knew the pet shop was so Susanna wouldn’t get the wrong idea before I could tell her that I’d adopted the Phantom. Seeing a filthy, scrawny black dog emerging from a van decorated with screaming skulls would not be likely to put a pet shop proprietor in a good mood toward the driver. I didn’t have a lot of room for dog food anyway so I probably wouldn’t dislocate anything hauling it out to the van. I could come back later with Merry who might or might not have armrests by then. I’d have to buy him if Sid chewed off his armrests. Life was so complicated.
The door went bing bong as we went through and I braced myself. A friendly-looking woman emerged from somewhere in the back. “What can I help —” She caught sight of Sid and her face froze.
“Dog food,” I said hastily. “And a brush. And a collar. She turned up on my doorstep last night. I let her in and fed her tunafish sandwiches because that’s what I had. We’ve just come from the vet.” I knew I was babbling but it was hard to stop. The woman’s face had relaxed a little, and she looked back at me, thoughtfully. “Bridget says to tell you she’s the Phantom,” I added. “If you’re Susanna.”
“Yes,” said Susanna. “Which vet?”
“Jim Cuthbert,” I said. “Bridget recommended him. And he’s right here. Sid—I call her Sid—is actually microchipped and Jim talked to her owner. Her ex-owner, who doesn’t want her back. I want to keep her.”
Susanna said a little grimly, “You don’t look like the average dog abuser, although people can surprise you. But I don’t think anyone responsible for the way your Sid looks would have the gall to bring the poor thing into a pet shop.” She looked thoughtful again. “I’ve got some cheap trial-size bags of Splendapet I could let you have, which is a good basic kibble. And there’s a special—or there will be, as soon as I get the posters up—on Fatdog. You buy a whole flat for half price. It’s pretty decent. No mystery ingredients.” She suddenly turned her hard look on me again. “You do read ingredient lists, don’t you?”
“Zealously,” I said, thinking of my mother ranting about commercial dog food, but Susanna laughed.
“I also,” she said, sounding positively cheerful, “have a really spectacular collar you can have. It’ll look great on Sid as soon as she—looks a little more like a dog and less like something under the woodpile that the mice have been gnawing on. I’ve been wondering what to do with it since Mrs Stoneman threw it at me when I refused to refund her money after she’d had it for a month and decided she didn’t like it.” She went to the counter and groped around under the cash register. She pulled out a cat toy, a postcard with a picture of a parakeet on it, a dented can with a torn label the remains of which read SEN SUP MIN BAL, a spray can of WONDERFURRY, which I noted had changed its logo since the days I was following my mother around to dog shows, and a plastic frond that belonged in an aquarium with a plastic pirate skeleton and maybe some fish. “It’s here somewhere,” she said. “Ah.” Triumphantly she pulled out a dog collar and held it out to me.
“Golly,” I said. It was black leather, almost as wide as my palm, with a complicated braid of black and caramel leather running down its length that looked like something out of the Book of Kells, and dotted with tiny gold beads or buttons. I squinted at these: they had some kind of symbol or insignia on them. It was probably just the company trademark. But the collar looked like something Topaz might wear. I’d need burgundy velvet to go with it. “Golly,” I said again.
“Yeah,” said Susanna. “Mrs Stoneman needs something to do with herself besides thinking up complicated ways to spend her husband’s money. The dog she bought it for was imported from somewhere no one has ever heard of and cost more than I earn in a year. It’s still a nice dog for some reason. This collar was a monumental special order and . . . well. I should have known better. Mrs S now drives a hundred and twenty miles to the pet shop in Cavendish. Or rather her chauffeur drives her. Anyway. Would you like it? I know it’s a little—flamboyant. But it needs something like a tall sighthound to carry it off. I can’t bear to throw it out, no sane person would pay what it’s worth, and having it around keeps reminding me what a moron I was. ”
It felt curiously alive in my hands, like it might itself produce legs and a wagging tail. “What do you think?” I said, and held it down at Sid level. As she put her nose out to touch it I had a flash of what she was going to look like in a few months—and in the flash she was wearing the collar. She looked up at me and waved her tail.
“Okay,” I said. “Thanks. But can we have a cheap nylon one for everyday?”
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