Connie spun around and saw the flopeared mutt. He was uphill, just turning the corner at the south end of the block. Following him were a woman and a boy of about five.
As soon as the dog saw that he had gotten their attention, he snatched hold of one cuff of the boy's jeans, and with his teeth impatiently pulled him along. After a couple of steps he let go, ran toward Connie, stopped halfway between his people and hers, barked at her, barked at the woman and boy, barked at Connie again, then just sat there looking left and right and left again, as if to say, Well, haven't I done enough?
The woman and the boy appeared to be curious but frightened.
The mother was attractive in a way, and the child was cute, neatly and cleanly dressed, but they both had the wary and haunted look of people who knew the streets too well Connie approached them slowly, with a smile. When she passed the dog, he got off his butt and padded along at her side, panting and grinning.
There was a qualityøof mystery and awe about the moment, and Connie knew that whatever connection they were about to make was going to mean life or death to her and Harry, maybe to all of them.
She had no idea what she was going to say to them until she was close enough to speak: “Have you had... had... a strange experience lately?”
The woman blinked at her in surprise. "Strange experience? Oh yes.
Oh my, yes."
Faraway in China, the people sometimes say, life is often bitter and all too seldom gay.
Bitter as dragon tears, great cascades of sorrow flood down all the years, drowning our tomorrows.
Faraway in China, the people also say, life is sometimes joyous if all too often gray.
Although he is seasoned with bitter dragon tears, seasoning is just a spice within our brew of years.
Bad times are only rice, tears are one more flavor, that gives us sustenance, something we can savor.
-The Book of Counted Sorrows
Now they know.
He is a good dog, good dog, good.
They are all together now. The woman and the boy, the stinky man, the notsostinky man, and the woman without a boy. All of them smelling of the touch of the thingthatwillkillyou, which is why he knew they had to be together.
They know it, too. They know why they are together. They stand in front of the people food place, talking to each other, talking fast, all excited, sometimes all talking at once, while the women and the boy and the notsostinky man are always sure to keep the stinky man upwind from them.
They keep stooping down to pet him and scratch behind his ears and tell him he's a good dog, good, and they say other nice things about him that he can't really understand. This is the best. It is so good to be petted and scratched and liked by people who will, he is pretty sure, not set his fur on fire, and by people who do not have any cat.
smell on them, none.
Once, long after the little girl who called him Prince, there were some people who took him into their place and fed him and were nice to him, called him Max, but they had a cat. Big cat. Mean. The cat was called Fluffy. Max was nice to Fluffy. Max never once chased Fluffy.
In those days Max never chased cats. Well, hardly ever. Some cats, he liked. But Fluffy did not like Max and did not want Max in the people place, so sometimes Fluffy stole Max's food, and other times Fluffy peed in Max's water bowl. During the day when the nice people were gone from their place to some other place, Max and Fluffy were left alone, and Fluffy would screech, all crazy and spitting, and scare Max and chase him around the place. Or jump off high things onto Max. Big cat. Screeching. Spitting. Crazy. So Max understood that it was Fluffy's place, not Max's and Fluffy's place, just Fluffy's, so he went away from the nice people and was just Fella again.
Ever since, he worries that when he finds nice people who want to take him into their place and feed him forever, they will have cat smell on them, and when he goes to their place with them and walks in the door with them, there will be Fluffy. Big. Mean.
So now it is nice that none of these people has any cat smell, because if one of them wants to be a family with him, he will be safe and he won't have to worry about pee in his water bowl.
After a while, they are so excited talking to each other that they aren't petting him so much and saying how good he is, so he gets bored.
Yawns. Lies down. Might sleep. He is tired. Busy day, being a good dog.
But then he sees the people in the food place, looking out the windows of the food place. Interesting. At the windows, looking out.
Looking at him.
Maybe they think he is cute.
Maybe they want to give him food.
Why woulln't they want to give him food?
So he gets up and pads to the food place. Head high. Prance a little.
Wag the tail. They like that.
At the door, he waits. Nobody opens it. He puts one paw on it.
Waits. Nobody. He scratches. Nobody.
He goes out where the people at the window can see him. He wags his tail. He tilts his head, pricks up one ear. They see him. He knows they see him.
He goes to the door again. Waits. Waits.
Maybe they don't know he wants food. Or maybe they're scared of him, think he's a bad dog. He doesn't look like a bad dog. How could they be scared? Don't they know when to be scared, when not? He would never jump off high places on top of them or pee in their water bowls.
Stupid people. Stupid.
Finally he decides he's not going to get any food, so he goes back to the nice people he brought together. On his way he keeps his head up, prances, wags his tail, just to show the people at the window what they're missing.
When he gets back to the women and the boy and the stinky man and the not sostill:ky man, something is wrong. He can feel it and smell it.
They are scared. This is not new. They have all been scared since he first smelled each of them. But this is a different scared. Worse scared.
And they have a little trace of the justliedownanddie smell.
Animals get that smell sometimes, when they're old, when they're very tired and sick People, not so often. Though he knows a place where people have that smell. He was there earlier in the night with the woman and the boy.
But bad interesting.
He is worried that these nice people have even a little bit of the justliedownanddie smell. What is wrong with them? Not sick.
Maybe the stinky man, sick a little, but not the rest of them. Not old, either.
Their voices are different, too. A little excited, not so much as before. Tired, a little. Sad, a little. Something else . . .
Something. What? What?
He sniffs around their feet; one at a time, sniffs sniffs sniffs sniffs even the stinky man, and suddenly he knows what's wrong with them, and he can't believe it, can't.
He is amazed. Amazed. He backs away, looks at them, amazed.
All of them have the special smell that says doIchaseitordoesitchaseme?-doIrunordoIfight?-amIhungrye oughttodigsomethingoutofitsholeandeatitorshouldIwaitands eif peoplewillgivemesomethinggood? It is the smell of not knowing what to do, which is sometimes a different kind of fear smell.
Like now. They are afraid of the thingthatwillkillyou, but they are also afraid because they don't know what to do next.
He is amazed because he knows what to do next, and he is not even a people. But sometimes they can be so slow, people.
All right. He will show them what to do next.
He barks, and of course they all look at him because he's not a dog that barks much.
He barks again, then runs past them, downhill, runs, runs, and then stops and looks back and barks again.
They stare at him. He is amazed.
He runs back to them, barks, turns, runs downhill again, runs, runs, stops, looks back, barks again.
They're talking. Looking at him and talking. Like maybe they get It.
So he runs a little farther, turns, looks back, barks.
They're excited. They get it. Amazing.
They did not know how far the dog was going to lead them, and they were agreed that the five of them would be too conspicuous on foot, as a group, at almost two o'clock in the morning. They decided to see if Woofer would be as eager to run ahead and lead the van as he was to lead them on foot, because in the vehicle they would be considerably less of a spectacle.
Janet helped Detective Gulliver and Detective Lyon quickly take the Christmastree lights off the van. They were attached with metal clips in some places and with pieces of masking tape in others.
It seemed doubtful that the dog was going to lead them directly to the person they were calling Ticktock. Just in case, however, it made a lot of sense not to draw attention to themselves with strings of red and green lights.
While they worked, Sammy Shamroe followed them around the Ford, telling them, not for the first time, that he had been a fool and a fallen man, but that he was going to turn over a new leaf after this.
It seemed important to him that they believe he was sincere in making a commitment to a new life as if he needed other people to believe it before he would be convinced himself.
“I never really thought I had anything the world really needed,” Sammy said, "thought I was pretty much worthless, just a hype artist, smooth talker, empty inside, but now here I am saving the world from an alien.
Okay not an alien, actually and not saving the world all by myselœ but helping to save it damn sure enough."
Janet was still astonished by what Woofer had done. No one was quite sure how he knew that the five of them were living under the same bizarre threat or that it would be useful for them to be brought together. Everyone knew that animals' senses were in some respects weaker than those of human beings but in many respects stronger, and that beyond the usual five senses they might have others that were difficult to understand. But after this, she would never look at another dogr any animal, for that matterin quite the same way that she had regarded them before.
Taking the dog into their lives and feeding him when she could least afford it had turned out to be perhaps the smartest thing she had ever done.
She and the two detectives finished removing the lights, rolled them up, and put them in the back of the van.
“I've quit drinking for good,” Sammy said, following them to the rear door. "Can you believe it? But it's true. No more. Not one drop.
Woofer was sitting on the sidewalk with Danny, in the fall of light under a streetlamp, watching them, waiting patiently.
Initially when she learned that Ms. Gulliver and Mr. Lyon were police detectives, Janet had almost grabbed Danny and run. After all, she had left a dead husband, killed by her own hand, moldering f on desert sands in Arizona, and she had no way of knowing if the hateful man was still where she had left him. If Vince's body had been found, she might be wanted for questioning; there might even be a warrant for her arrest.
More to the point, no authority figure in her life had been a friend to her, with the possible exception of Mr. Ishigura at Pacific View Care Home. She thought of them as a different breed, people with whom she had nothing in common.
But Ms. Gulliver and Mr. Lyon seemed reliable and kind and wellmeaning. She did not think they were the type of people who would let Danny be taken away from her, though she had no intention of telling them she'd killed Vince. And Janet certainly did have things in common with themnot least of all, the will to live and the desire to get Ticktock before he got them.
She had decided to trust the detectives largely because she had no choice; they were all in this together. But she also decided to trust them because the dog trusted them.
“It's five minutes till two,” Detective Lyon said, checking his wristwatch. “Let's get moving, for God's sake.”
Janet called Danny to her, and he got into the back of the van with her and Sammy Shamroe, who pulled the rear door shut after them Detective Lyon climbed into the driver's seat, started the engine, and switched on the headlights The rear of the van was open to the front compartment. Janet, Danny, and Sammy crowded forward to look over the front seat and through the windshield.
Serpentine tendrils of thin fog were beginning to slither across the coast highway from the ocean. The headlights of an oncoming car, the only other traffic in sight, caught the lazily drifting mist at just the right angle and created a horizontal ribbon of rainbowlike colors that began at the righthand curb and ended at the lefthand curb. The car drove through the colors, carrying them off into the night.
Detective Gulliver was still standing out on the sidewalk with Woofer.
Detective Lyon released the hand brake and put the van in gear.
Raising his voice slightly, he said, “Okay, we're ready.”
On the sidewalk, Detective Gulliver could hear him because the van's side window was open. She talked to the dog, made a shooing motion with her hands, and the dog studied her quizzically.
Realizing that they were asking him to lead them where he had wanted to lead them just a couple of minutes ago, Woofer took off downhill, north along the sidewalk. He ran about onethird of a block, stopped, and looked back to see if Detective Gulliver was following. He seemed pleased to discover that she was staying with him. He wagged his tail.
Detective Lyon took his foot off the brake and let the van drift downhill, close behind Detective Gulliver, keeping pace with her, so the dog would get the idea that the vehicle was also following him.
Though the van was not moving fast, Janet gripped the seat behind Detective Lyon's head to steady herself, and Sammy clutched the headrest behind the empty passenger seat. With one hand, Danny held fast to Janet's belt, and stood on his tiptoes to try to see what was happening outside.
When Detective Gulliver had almost caught up with Woofer, the dog took off again, sprinted to the end of the block and stopped at the intersection to look back. He watched the woman approaching him, then studied the van for a moment, then the woman, then the van. He was a smart dog; he would get it.
“Wish he'd just talk to us and tell us what we need to know,” Detective Lyon said.
“Who?” Sammy asked.
After Detective Gulliver followed Woofer across the intersection and halfway along the next block, she stopped and let Detective Lyon catch up to her. She waited until Woofer was looking at her, then opened the passenger door and got into the van.
The dog sat down and stared at them.
Detective Lyon let the van drift forward a little.
The dog pricked up his ears lopsidedly.
The van drifted.
The dog got up and trotted farther north. He stopped, looked back to be sure the van was still coming, then trotted farther.
“Good dog,” Detective Gulliver said.
“Very good dog,” Detective Lyon said.
Danny said proudly “He's the best dog there is.”
“I'll second that,” said Sammy Shamroe, and rubbed one hand on the boy's head.