by Arnold Snyder
I pulled into the Pet Cellar parking lot and told Bridget to wait in the car. “This once,” I said, “please try to curb your instincts. Stay put in the back seat. I’m cracking the window, so please don’t growl at anybody passing by and don’t start howling. I’ll only be a few minutes.”
She looked up at me with her sad wolf eyes, then showed her teeth in disapproval.
“I mean it, Bridget. Just keep calm and let me pop in and out of this store. Now be a good girl.”
She growled loudly as I exited the vehicle. She didn’t like being talked to like a dog. I’d have to stop myself from saying “good girl” to her.
I told the Pet Cellar clerk I was looking for guide dog harnesses. “They’re big dogs,” I said. “Big shepherds. One’s a hundred and twenty-five pounds. The other’s … much bigger, kind of fat, actually.”
“No problem,” he said. “The extra-large vest-style should work just fine and I’ll throw in a girth extension, just in case you need it for the big boy. Come this way.”
He led me to a counter in the rear where more than a dozen dog vests and harnesses were displayed on the wall.
I pointed to the largest. “Is that the biggest one you have?” I said. I liked it because SERVICE DOG was spelled out in large white letters on the bright red vest, but it looked a bit small for Bridget.
“That’s a large,” he said. “This is the same model in extra large.” He pulled a big cardboard box out from under the counter and opened it. “I’ve put this on mastiffs and great Danes. They’re eighty-nine ninety-five each and I’ll throw in this girth extender.” He tossed a six-inch strap on top of the vest, then added, “Plus tax.”
“I need a couple leashes, too,” I said. “Good strong leather.”
When I got back to the car, lugging the big cardboard box that held both vests and leashes, Bridget was gone. The left rear door was open. I did not need this aggravation. I tossed the box onto the back seat and as I scanned the parking lot, turning three-sixty, I called to her loudly: “Bridget!”
Her head popped up to look at me from between some parked cars a few aisles over, then bobbed down again. I grabbed a vest and leash and ran as fast as I could to where I’d seen her head. She was still there, peering into the back window of a compact car.
“The only thing I asked you to do was stay in the car,” I said. “What are you doing over here? What are you looking at?”
I looked into the window that had her transfixed. On the back seat was a long flat box lined with a thick pink blanket, upon which five small gray tiger-striped kittens were sleeping.
“Now don’t get any crazy ideas,” I said. “This is a pet store parking lot. Whoever owns this car is probably inside buying kitty-cat food. Now I want you to put this on.” I opened the vest and started to wrap it around Bridget’s chest.
She twisted away from me, just being a bitch. She snarled at me and returned her gaze to the kitties,
“Look,” I said, “it’s a vest. It says SERVICE DOG. That way you can come with me. Nobody will question your presence. Think of it like a costume. I know you’re Bridget. You know you’re Bridget. But to the world, you’ll be Bridget the service dog.”
I placed the vest over her back again and this time she didn’t fight it. She let me reach around her chest and snap the clasps on the straps. I hooked the leash onto the vest and voila! I had a rather large and vicious-looking service dog, that, at the moment, was seriously contemplating snacking on a litter of kittens.
I yanked on the leash. She resisted. She really wanted those kitties.
I put on my wraparound shades. “Now, Bridget,” I said. “Don’t blow this. I’m supposed to be blind and you’re supposed to be my guide dog, so please stay on all fours and act, if not civilized, at least trained.” I tugged the leash again and she didn’t fight it. At first. But I wouldn’t exactly say she came willingly.
I managed to get her over to the car. She was drooling profusely and growling continually, like a low rumble in her throat. The sight of those kittens just lying there, waiting to be eaten, had mesmerized her. Then I came along and broke the spell.
I coaxed her into the back seat and closed the door before I got into the driver’s seat.
“Bridget, we have a job to do, remember?” I looked at my watch. “We’ve got forty minutes to get downtown and find Father Mcgillicuddy. This was your idea.” I started the engine and pulled out of the parking lot.
Ten minutes later, we were about four blocks from Twelfth Street and that was as close as we were going to get. Traffic was a nightmare. The streets were clogged with pedestrians. I pulled into the first open parking space I’d seen in three or four blocks, knowing that if I tried to get any closer I’d never find a place to park.
I got out of the car only to find that Bridget had beaten me out. I grabbed the other vest and slammed the car doors shut and ran to grab Bridget’s leash before she could disappear into the bustling crowd. The nastiest-looking guide dog on the planet tugged me jerkily through a sea of people.
“Mcgillicuddy!” I yelled to her. “You’ve got to find Father Mcgillicuddy!”
I could hear a choir singing in the distance, high-pitched adolescent voices—probably the boys choir from one of the local churches. But the crowd was so thick I couldn’t see very far ahead. We trudged on, her leading the way and me clumsily plowing into people in my attempt to keep up with her.
By the time we got to the Twelfth Street shopping district, Bridget started pulling me more deeply into the crowd and it was all I could do to hold onto the leash and the other vest. I was bumping into everyone we passed. Then I noticed she couldn’t keep her nose out of people’s crotches. Every butt, male and female, young and old, was a snout magnet. As we wended our way through the agitated crowd, Bridget somehow managed to goose more than half of the people we passed, one after another squealing eek and yikes and get outta there! They would turn around quickly and see Bridget with her big SERVICE DOG harness, growling menacingly, drooling uncontrollably, baring her teeth with murder in her eyes.
Then, they’d look up to see me, the poor blind dude being led by this frightening beast. I had the wraparound shades on, but I was still trying to “act” blind, nodding like a dashboard bobble-head with an inexplicable open-mouth smile, doing my best blind man impersonation—but continually yanking at Bridget’s leash, trying to convey a message to her to get her damn nose out of people’s rear ends.
I finally got down on my haunches and grabbed her collar at the neck, turning her face to look me in the eyes. “You’re a goddamn guide dog,” I said through my clenched teeth. “You’re looking for Father Mcgillicuddy. We’ve only got twenty minutes to get him the hell out of here. Now stop sniffing people’s assholes and find Mcgillicuddy.”
She snarled at me and twisted out of my grip. I let go of her collar but clutched the end of her leash tightly. I could not let her get away. That would not end well. I was already worried to death about finding Mcgillicuddy in time.
Then I saw them—the priests, the acolytes, the boys choir. All of them, including the choirboys, were in long black cassocks topped with blousy white-linen surpluses, moving slowly down the center of the street. A couple cops on horseback were smiling and chatting casually with each other.
As Bridget pulled me into the midst of the choirboys, I was transported emotionally by the pure beauty of their voices, which were echoing off the tall buildings on either side of the street. Up ahead, I could see the procession was being led by a priest—or perhaps that was the bishop—who was holding high an ornate golden monstrance with both hands.
As we moved quickly through the choir and into the ranks of the priests and acolytes, suddenly Bridget leapt onto the back of one of the priests, knocking him down and almost pulling me over. It was Father Mcgillicuddy.
He looked momentarily stunned, but quickly saw it was me holding the leash on the “guide dog” that had attacked him and his look of surprise became one of confusion. Bridget started licking the side of his face.
“Jim, I’m sorry,” I said, squatting down so I could speak in a subdued voice. “I had to come down here to get you. It’s an emergency. Devon finished his bloodwork and he says you’re going to turn into a werewolf this afternoon. We have to get you out of here.”
A small group of priests gathered around us but didn’t step forward to help Mcgillicuddy up, probably put off by Bridget, who looked anything but friendly. He sat up on the pavement for a moment, then climbed to his feet, brushing off his cassock with his hands. “Is that you, Bridget?” he said.
“Yes,” I said. “That’s her.”
All of the priests who had stopped to look dispersed back into the procession, assuming the trouble had passed.
“Now carry this vest,” I said, “and let’s hope you don’t have to put it on.” I handed him the other service dog vest.
“But I want to show you our new church. It’s just a few more blocks down Twelfth.”
“Next time, Jim. We’ve got no time to lose.”
We were now standing and talking in the middle of the street as the choir swarmed by around us, their voices like angels.
“Oh, I love this hymn,” said Father Mcgillicuddy, then he stared singing along with the choir, “Pangue Lingua Gloriosi Corporis Mysterium!”
“Jim!” I yelled at him “You don’t have time for this!”
He looked irritated. “Do you understand I’m having a banquet in half-an-hour with the bishop? Does Devon have any idea what time this transformation is supposed to occur?”
I looked at my watch. “In about ten minutes,” I said. “We may not get back to my car in time. We’ve got to get you to a different altitude fast, somewhere the barometric pressure is different. I don’t know what to do.”
“Oh, darn it all anyway,” Father Mcgillicuddy said. “I’ve been looking forward to this day for the past year. How about the Strait Tower?”
“The Strait Tower?” I said.
“It’s right across the street,” he said.
I knew that. The Strait Tower was the tallest building in Strait City.
“It’s sixty-two stories,” Father Mcgillicuddy said. “If we go to the top, that’s a pretty good change of altitude.”
There was really no time to think about it. “Let’s run,” I said.
Strait City’s most elegant and fashionable restaurant, Top of the Strait, was located on the sixty-second floor. We ran into the building, only to find ourselves waiting for one of the elevators with a crowd of people. Bridget was getting harder to control. She was snarling at anybody who looked at her, straining at the leash when she lunged at people who got too close, scaring everybody. But because of that service dog vest, and my apparent handicap, no one complained. When at last the elevator arrived, I glanced once more at my watch. Seven minutes to go. We got onto the elevator and some of the people who had just gotten on before us took one look at Bridget and quickly got off. A few braver souls stayed. It may have been her smell, her attitude, her snarling, her drool, but whatever it was I was glad we weren’t packed in too tightly. No telling how she might react to that.
I called Devon as we were going up. “I’ve got Father Mcgillicuddy,” I said. “We’re downtown right now, on our way up to the Top of the Strait, which is on the sixty-second floor of the Strait Tower.”
Bridget stuck her nose into some lady’s butt. I yanked her back and shortened up my grip on the leash. The lady looked at me in disapproval, but I just acted blind. I hadn’t seen anything.
“I’m glad you found him,” Devon said. “I’m with Vanschtubenbergh and we were just about to call you. What is the Top of the Strait?”
“It’s a restaurant.”
“Why are you going to a restaurant at a time like this?”
“It’s sixty-two floors up,” I said. “We’re changing altitude, changing the barometric pressure.”
“Dustin, that’s not going to do it. I mean, you’ve got to change altitude by a couple thousand feet at least.”
“Oh shit,” I said. “Really?”
“Here, talk to Vanschtubenbergh,” he said. Then I heard him telling Vanschtubenbergh where we were.
The elevator stopped at the twenty-fifth floor and let on a large crowd of people. Too many people for Bridget’s comfort, down on all fours as she was. So, she got up onto her hind legs to get some breathing room, or, more accurately, panting room.
Standing, she was a head taller than anyone else on the elevator, and people turned to look at her because no one had ever seen a humongous dog up on its hind legs in an elevator. Her tongue was hanging out of her mouth sideways in a way made her look insane.
Her drool was an unanticipated problem, dripping in a long glistening string onto the jacket of the man in front of her. The guy didn’t know he was being drooled on because he was one of the few who had not turned to look at her. But quite a few other people could see the drool. No one said anything, because, after all, we were in an elevator. It didn’t help much that she started growling menacingly, which seemed very loud in that confined, claustrophobic space.
“Good girl, Bridget,” I said softly. “Down, girl.” I yanked down on the leash to force her back onto all fours.
The next voice I heard was the Doc. “What the hell are you doing at the Top of the Strait? You’ve got to get that priest away from people before he transforms.”
“I know that but we’re trapped here now. It’s even worse outside with the procession in the street today. Plus, I’ve got Bridget with me and she took a hit of the bane, so she’s pretty damn hard to control. I’ve got her on a leash. What should I do, Doc? Mcgillicuddy could transform any minute now.”
“You’ve got to get them some chocolate,” the Doc said.
“Are you kidding me? The last thing I need is to have them rolling around the floor in pain. And we haven’t yet figured out how to get an addicted wolf off the chocolate.”
“Don’t you remember? The first few times the wolves took it, it worked like a sedative. It calmed them down.”
I’d forgotten about that. Yes, chocolate might be the answer. “I don’t have any chocolate,” I said. “I think there was a sundry shop down on the first level. I guess we’ll go back down.”
“But you’re almost at the Top of the Strait. They have the best selection of chocolate desserts in the city. Try the Triple Chocolate Annoyance. It’s their house specialty. Now once you get them both calmed down, I want you to come to my lab. Devon and I have a surprise for you.”
Bridget was getting frantic in the crowded elevator. She did not want to be on all fours and kept attempting to stand upright, but I was fighting her as was Mcgillicuddy who was trying to hold her. She started bumping people, especially that poor man in front of her, already covered in wolf slime. She started ramming people’s legs with her head, tripping some of them, who then fell into people in front of them. “Hey!” “Whaa?” “Ouch!” I don’t know what she was thinking. I was just holding onto her leash and praying she wouldn’t start biting.
By the time the elevator reached the fortieth-fifth floor, stopping to let more people on, Bridget was standing again, growling maniacally. The elevator emptied out in a rush and I heard those exiting advising those about to enter to not get on.
Father Mcgillicuddy, Bridget and I rode up the rest of the way alone. In peace. That was much more pleasant, but I was worried about how Bridget would be in the restaurant. She was still up on her hind legs.
“Look, Bridget,” I said. “You have to stay on all fours. When we get to the restaurant, do not stop to sniff anything or anybody. I know you’ll want to, but please restrain yourself.”
She just stood there looking down at me, looking me right in the eyes. Had she understood a single word I’d said?
“Get down, Bridget!” I said. “You’re a dog, remember!”
She reluctantly got down on all fours.
The elevator finally jolted to a stop at the top floor. We were the only riders left. It seemed to have taken forever. I looked at my watch. There was only a minute to go.
As we exited the elevator, I asked Father Mcgillicuddy how he was feeling. He didn’t need to answer. I looked at his face and could see the transformation starting. He dropped the service harness on the floor.
I picked it up quickly and grabbed Father Mcgillicuddy’s cassock sleeve and dragged him and Bridget into the men’s room that was conveniently located outside the restaurant entrance.
Luckily, the restroom was empty. We were just in the nick of time. Father Mcgillicuddy dropped to all fours and I got down on the floor to help him out of his shoes. I dropped Bridget’s leash to help Father Mcgillicuddy get his clothes off, and she took advantage of her freedom by going into one of the stalls to lap up some water. Incredible thirst is one of the side effects of transformation.
Within two minutes, Father Mcgillicuddy had completely transformed and I had him undressed. The service dog vest fit him well, but only because the clerk at the pet store had thoughtfully given me the girth extension. I folded Father Mcgillicuddy’s clothes and placed them neatly on top of the towel dispenser.
Then I got a hold of both leashes and looked at my two service dogs who were growling menacingly at each other.
“Now look, you two,” I said. “I’m blind and you’re my guide dogs. We’re going to go into a restaurant and you both must be on your best behavior. This is a class place. It’s not a burger joint. No growling, no howling, and keep your noses out of people’s buttholes. When the hostess seats me, you both sit quietly beside my chair. I’m going to order you both a special treat, so try to be good. Now let’s go.”
What could possibly go wrong?
Go to: Chapter Eleven