The food was good, too, really good. Pacific View was not an ordinary nursing home. It was classy. The patients were rich, or had relatives who were rich.
Mr. Ishigura did not advertise his generosity, and his door was not open to everyone. When he saw street people who seemed, to him, to have fallen to their fate not entirely by their own doing, he approached them about the free lunches and dinners at Pacific View Because he was selective, it was possible to eat there without having to share the table with some of the moody and dangerous alcoholics and addicts who made many of the church and mission kitchens so unappealing.
Janet didn't take advantage of Mr. Ishigura's hospitality nearly as often as it was available. Of the seven lunches and seven dinners she might have eaten at Pacific View each week, she limited herself to no more than two of each. Otherwise, she was able to provide for herself and Danny, and she took pride in every meal that was bought with her own earnings.
That Tuesday night, she and Danny shared the facilities with three elderly men, one aged woman whose face was as wrinkled as a crumpled paper bag but who wore a gaily colored scarf and bright red beret, and an unfortunately ugly young man with a deformed face. They were all ragged but not filthy, unbarbered but clean smelling enough.
She didn't speak to any of them, although she would have enjoyed conversation. It had been so long since she had spoken at any length to anyone but Danny that she was not confident of making chitchat with another adult.
Besides, she was leery of encountering someone with a keen curiosity.
She did not want to have to answer questions about herself, her past.
She was, after all, a murderer. And if Vince's body had been found in the Arizona desert, she might also be wanted by the police.
She didn't even speak to Danny, who needed no encouragement .1 either to eat or to mind his manners. Though he was only five, the boy was wellbehaved and knew how to conduct himself at the table.
Janet was fiercely proud of him. From time to time, as they ate, she smoothed his hair or touched the back of his neck or patted his shoulder, so he would know that she was proud.
God, she loved him. So little, so innocent, so patiently enduring of one hardship after another. Nothing must happen to him. He must have his chance to grow up, become something in this world.
She could enjoy dinner only as long as she kept thoughts of the policeman to a minimum. The policeman who could change shape.
Who had almost become a werewolf like out of a movie. Who had become Vince, while thunder rolled and lightning flashed, and who had halted Woofer in midair.
After the encounter in that alleyway earlier in the day, Janet had driven north in the pouring rain, out of Laguna Beach, heading for Los Angeles, desperate to put a lot of miles between them and the mysterious creature who wanted to kill them. It had said that it could find them no matter where they ran, and she had believed it. But just waiting to be killed was intolerable.
She got only as far as Corona Del Mar, the next town up the coast, before realizing that she must go back. In Los Angeles, she would have to learn what neighborhoods were best for scavenging, when the garbage pickups were scheduled so she could search the cans just ahead of the sanitation trucks, which communities had the most tolerant police, where can sand bottles could be redeemed, where to find another humanitarian like Mr. Ishigura, and so much more.
Her cash on hand was low at the moment, and she could not afford to live on their meager savings long enough to learn the ropes in a new place. It was Laguna Beach or nowhere.
Maybe the worst thing about being dirt poor was not having any choices.
She'd driven back to Laguna Beach, mentally chastising herself for the gasoline she'd wasted.
They parked on a side street and stayed in the car all during the rainy afternoon. By the gray storm light, with Woofer dozing in the back seat, she read to Danny from a thick storybook rescued from a trash bin. He loved being read to. He sat enthralled, while pearl and silver water shadows played across his face in patterns that matched the streams of rain shimmering down the windshield.
Now the rain was gone, the day was ended, dinner was finished, and it was time to return to the old Dodge for the night. Janet was exhausted, and she knew Danny would drop quickly into sleep like a stone sinking in a pond. But she dreaded closing her eyes, for she was afraid that the policeman thing would find them while they slept.
When they gathered up their dirty dishes and carried them to the sink where they always left them, Janet and Danny were approached by a cook whose first name was Loretta and whose last name was unknown to Janet.
Loretta was a heavyset woman of about fifty, with skin as smooth as porcelain and a brow so free of lines that she must never have had a worry in her entire life. Her hands were strong, and red from kitchen work. She was carrying a disposable pie tin full of meat scraps.
“That dog still hanging around?” Loretta asked. “The cute fella who's been trailing after you the last few times?”
“Woofer,” Danny said.
“He's taken a shine to my boy,” Janet said. “He's out in the alley now, waiting for us.”
“Well, I've got a treat for the cutie,” Loretta said, indicating the meat scraps.
A pretty blond nurse, standing at a nearby butcher's block and drinking a glass of milk' overheard their conversation. “Is he really cute?”
“Just a mutt,” Loretta said, “no fancy breed, but he oughta be in pictures, this one.”
“I'm a dog nut,” the nurse said. “I have three. I love dogs. Can I see him?”
“Sure, sure, come on,” Loretta said. Then she checked herself and smiled at Janet. “You mind if Angelina sees him?”
Angelina was evidently the nurse.
“Heavens no, why would I mind?” Janet said.
Loretta led the way to the alley door. The scraps in the pie tin were not fat and gristle, but choice bits of ham and turkey.
Outside the door in a cone of yellow light from a security lamp, Woofer sat in patient anticipation, his head cocked to the right, one ear pricked up and one ear floppy as usual, a quizzical look on his face.
A cool breeze, the first stirring of the air since the storm had passed, ruffled his fur.
Angelina was instantly captivated. “He's wonderful:” “He's mine,” Danny said so softly that it was doubtful anyone but Janet had heard him.
As if he understood the nurse's praise, Woofer grinned, and his bushy tail vigorously swept the blacktop.
Maybe he did understand. Within a day of encountering Woofer, Janet had decided that he was a smart mutt.
Taking the pie tin full of scraps from the cook, Angelina moved in front of everyone and squatted down before the dog. "You are a cutie.
Look at this, fella. Does this look good? Bet you'll like this."
Woofer glanced at Janet, as if seeking permission to feast on the scraps. He was just a collarless street dog now but evidently he had been someone's house pet at one time. He had the restraint that came from training and the capacity for reciprocal affection that in animalsperhaps in people as wellgrew from being loved.
Only then did the pooch take his dinner, snatching hungrily at the chunks and slivers of meat.
Unexpectedly, Janet Marco perceived a kinship with the dog that unnerved her. Her parents had treated her with the cruelty that some sick people directed against animals; indeed, they would have dealt with any cat or dog more humanely than they'd dealt with her.
Vince had been no kinder. And though there were no indications that the dog had been beaten or starved, he had surely been abandoned.
Though he was without a collar, he clearly had not been raised wild; for he was too eager to please and too needful of affection.
Abandonment was just another form of abuse, which meant that Janet and the dog had shared a host of hardships, fears, and experiences.
She decided to keep the dog regardless of the trouble and expense he might pose. There was a bond between them, worthy of respect: they were both living creatures capable of courage and commitmentand both in need.
While Woofer ate with canine enthusiasm, the young blond nurse petted him, scratched behind his ears, and cooed to him.
“Told you he was a cutie,” said the cook, Loretta, folding her arms across her immense bosom and beaming at Woofer. “Oughta be in movies, he should. A regular little charmer.”
“He's mine,” Danny said worriedly, and again in such a low voice that only Janet could have heard him. He was standing at her side, holding fast to her, and she put a hand on his shoulder reassuringly.
Halfway through his meal, Woofer suddenly looked up from the pie tin and regarded Angelina curiously. His good ear pricked again.
He sniffed at her starched white uniform, her slender hands, then pushed his head under her knees to get a good whiff of her white shoes.
He sniffed her hands again, licked her fingers, chuffing and whining, prancing in place, increasingly excited.
The nurse and cook laughed, thinking that Woofer was reacting only to the good food and all of the attention, but Janet knew he was responding to something else. Mixed up with all the chuffing and whining were brief low growls as he caught some scent that he didn't like. And his tail had stopped wagging.
Without warning and to Janet's great mortification, the dog slipped out of Angelinas cuddling hands, shot around her, streaked past Danny, between the cook's legs, and straight through the open door into the kitchen.
“Woofer, no!” Janet cried.
The dog didn't heed her, kept going, and everyone in the alleyway went after him.
The kitchen staff tried to capture Woofer, but he was too quick for them. He dodged and feinted, claws clicking on the tile floor. He scrambled under food preparation tables, rolled and leaped and abruptly changed directions again and again to elude grasping hands, exhibiting all the agility of an eel, panting and grinning and apparently having a good time.
However, it wasn't entirely fun and doggy games. At the same time, he was urgently searching for something, following an elusive scent, sniffing at the Boor and at the air. He appeared to be disinterested in the ovens filled with baking sweet rolls from which flowed a virtual flood of mouthwatering aromas, and he didn't leap up toward any of the counters on which food was exposed. Something else interested him, whatever he had first detected on the young blond nurse named Angelina.
“Bad dog,” Janet kept repeating as she joined the chase, “bad dog, bad dog! ” Woofer cast a couple of hurt looks her way but didn't settle down.
A nurse's aide, unaware of what was happening in the kitchen, pushed through a pair of swinging doors with a cart of supplies, and the dog instantly took advantage of the opening. He shot past the aide, through the doors, into another part of the care home.
Bad dog. Not true. Good dog. Good.
The food place is full of so many tasty odors, he can't track the other scent, the strange scent, quick as he wants to. But on the other side of the swinging doors is a long, long narrow place with other places opening off both sides. Here the hungrymaking smells aren't as heavy Lots of other smells, though, mostly people smells, mostly not wonderful. Sharp odors, salty odors, sickmaking sweet odors, sour.
Pine. A bucket of pine in the long, long narrow place. He real quick sticks his nose in the bucket of pine, wondering how the whole tree got in there, but it isn't a tree, only water, dirtylooking water that smells like a whole pine tree, a bunch of them, all in a bucket.
Pee. He can smell pee. People pee. Different kinds of people pee.
Interesting. Ten, twenty, thirty different pee smells, none of them real strong but there, lots more people pee than he had ever smelled inside anyplace anytime. He can tell a lot from the smell of people's pee, what they ate, what they drank, where they've been today, whether they've rutted lately, whether they're healthy or sick, angry or happy, good or bad. Most of these people haven't rutted in a long time, and are sick one way or another, some of them bad sick. None of the pee is the kind of pee that's fun to smell.
He smells shoe leather, floor wax, wood polish, starch, roses, daisies, tulips, carnations, lemons, tentwentylots of kinds of sweat, chocolate good, poop bad, dust, damp earth from a plant pot, soap, hair spray, peppermint, pepper, salt, onions, the sneezemaking bitterness of termites in one wall, coffee, hot brass, rubber, paper, pencil shavings, butterscotch, more pine trees in a bucket, another dog.
Interesting. Another dog. Somebody has a dog and brings its scent in on their shoes, interesting dog, female, and they track the scent around the long narrow place. Interesting. There are countless other odorshis world is odors more than anythingincluding that strange scent, strange and bad, bareyourteeth bad, enemy, hateful thing, smelled before, policeman smell, wolf smell, policemanwolfthing smell, there, got it again, this way, this way, follow.
People are chasing him because he doesn't belong here. All sorts of places people think you don't belong, though you never smell as bad as most people, even the clean ones, and though you aren't as big or crashing around with so much noise and taking up so much space as people do.
Bad dog, the woman says, and that hurts him because he likes the woman, the boy, is doing this for them, finding out about the bad policemanwolfthing with the strange smell.
Bad dog. Not true. Good dog. Good.
Woman in white, coming through a door, looking surprised, smelling surprised, trying to stop him. Quick snarl. She jumps back. So easy to scare, people. So easy to fool.
The long narrow place meets another long narrow place. More doors, more odors, ammonia and sulphur and more kinds of sick smells, more kinds of pee. People live here but also pee here. So strange.
Interesting. Dogs don't pee where they live.
Woman in the narrow place, carrying something, looks surprised, smells surprised, says, Oh, , how cute.
Give her a wag of the tail. Why not? But keep going.
That scent. Strange. Hateful. Strong, getting stronger.
An open door, soft light, a space with a sick woman lying on a bed.
He goes in, suddenly wary, looking left and right, because this place reeks of the strange odor, the bad thing, the floor, the walls, and especially a chair, where the bad thing sat. It was here for a long time, more than once, lots of times.
The woman says, lbho's there?
She stinks. Faint sour sweat. Sickness but more than that.
Deep, low, terrible unhappiness. And fear. More than anything else, the sharp, lightningstorm, iron smell of fear.
Who's there? Who is it?
Running feet in the long narrow space outside, people coming.
Fear so heavy that the strangebad odor is almost blotted out by the fear, fear, fear, fear.
Angelina? Is that you? Angelina?