Sam’s heart fell into her stomach. It was over. She had failed and now the dog was done for. She felt completely defeated, like she was so totally worthless that everything she tried to do was bound to fail.
Sam twisted around, looked up and saw Penelope Farmer breathing heavily through an open-mouthed smile. At her heels, her two spaniels stood panting, their tails swishing from side to side. They both wore red wool coats and little red booties on all four paws that matched Penelope’s coat.
“Wow, you’re fast!” Penelope said as Sam gave her three wide-eyed blinks.
“What are you doing?” An overwhelming feeling of relief swept through Sam. Had it been Penelope all along?
“Thought you might need some help,” she said simply. Behind her was a large red wagon with fenced siding and a Canadian flag as a canopy. The wheels had been replaced with broad skis, converting it into a sled and inside was a blanket on top of a custom-made dog bed. Across the back, part of the manufacturer’s print had been painted out and replaced with hand-painted words, forming the message Caution: Tails Wagon.
They lifted Sam’s dog into the sled gently and covered him with the blanket.
“Here.” Penelope handed Sam a ski suit. “Just don’t bend over. Mom borrowed it during one of her heavy phases and had a huge wipe out when she skied down a double black run by accident. There’s a rip in the crotch now.”
Sam unfolded the ski suit. The front read, Keep Clam and Curry On. The back had an image of an opened clam shell with the two halves mimicking angel wings. She thought that Penelope had been joking at the clinic earlier. Apparently not.
“Oh, I can pull,” Sam offered as Penelope grabbed the handle.
“I got it. You look like you could use a break. Oooh. He’s heavy.”
Sam thanked her with a smile, suppressing an urge to give her a hug. She still couldn’t believe what had just happened.
“I’ve seen you around school. You’re Sam, right? I’m Penelope, but my mom calls me Penny and my grandparents on my dad’s side call me Pippa. But my dad calls me Milly, short for Millicent, which comes from cent, which comes from Penny. That’s William and this one’s Harry. They’re Cavalier King Charles Spaniels and they’re both kings in my world.”
“They’re so cute, especially with their tiny Canadian flag booties.”
“Gotta protect their paws from the salt. Dogs are family, you know. William and Harry are the best dogs in the world. Every dog lover will say that about their dogs, but they’re wrong. These two are the very best. It’s not even close. Oh, look.” Penelope pointed at a cluster of trees. Two figures in red jackets were approaching from the trail ahead. Sam’s heartbeat had just returned to normal, but now she could feel it speed up again. They were definitely animal control officers.
Penelope picked up William and gingerly put him in the sled while Sam pulled the blanket over her dog’s head, making sure to leave a little fold open for his nose. Then Harry was carefully placed on top of his shoulder.
“Stay,” Penelope said to her dogs. She put one hand in her jacket pocket and repeated her command. The two dogs froze in place, even as the group continued towards the officers on the path.
As the trail curved around the cluster of large trees, Sam inhaled deeply, trying to slow her pulse and calm her nerves.
“Hi,” one officer called out with a goofy smile and a wave of his hand. He had greasy hair and bangs that would have fallen into his eyes if it were not for his oversized glasses. “How are you girls doing today? We’re looking for a rabid dog. Might be with a girl. Have you seen anything like that?”
He seems nice and friendly, Sam thought. The other one had broad shoulders and a square jaw covered with a thick, dark beard. With his brows furrowed and his lips slightly downturned, he had a sour look on his face, like he hated his job, or the outdoors, or maybe just people in general. His cold, hard stare didn’t seem to stem from curiosity; Sam felt like he was examining them. Not so friendly, that one. Does he suspect something? Does he know? He’s trouble. Better keep an eye on him.
“Hello Officer! We’re good! How are you?” Penelope replied.
Officer Unfriendly’s eyes were now inspecting Sam and she felt a sudden rush of self-consciousness. Could he tell it wasn’t her ski suit? Did he see how ill fitting it was? Was he comparing Sam’s face to a description from the complaint? Was he picking up on her dog’s stink? Sam’s breath was shallow and rapid.
“Oh, can’t complain.” Officer Goofy’s lips stretched out into a toothy grin. He cocked his head to the left and squinted one eye at Penelope. “You’re on YouTube aren’t you? I love your videos!”
“I am! You’ve seen them?”
Sam had stopped listening. Her pulse was pounding in her ears. She sneaked a peek at Officer Unfriendly. He was still staring. Don’t look at him, Sam thought. She glanced up again. Damn it! I said stop.
Sam sucked up the corner of her lower lip and felt the tiny pinch of her front teeth clamping down. She tried to force her eyes to focus on her boots, but they darted up and stole another glimpse instead. Nothing had changed. Officer Unfriendly stood in the same position and had the same expression on his face. Sam rubbed her fingers against her palms. Clammy, Sam thought. Penelope came to her mind immediately and she snapped back into listening to the conversation.
“I love your channel! I subbed after I saw the one with William and Harry hugging in front of all those landmarks.”
“Oh yeah, that video went super viral. I never even taught them that trick! Harry was miserable after getting neutered, so William gave him a cuddle. Harry noticed when I gave William a treat for being such a sweet big brother, so he jumped up and gave William a cuddle back to get a treat too. Now they sit there on their hind legs cuddling and trying to get treats all the time.”
Officer Unfriendly started walking towards Sam. He knows, she thought. She looked right into his eyes. It was all over now. There was no point in trying to hide.
Sam held her breath. What was he going to say? Was he going to call for backup? What was he thinking? What was he going to do and why was he getting so close?
“Really? Wow! That is so sweet! Are they from the same litter?” Officer Goofy asked Penelope.
“No. William was found wandering around in West Vancouver. I got him from the shelter and Harry here bounced around in three different homes before I got him. They’re inseparable now, though.”
“I hate irresponsible people who go out and get cute puppies and dump them when they realize how much work they are. I mean, dogs have feelings too! Like in your video where William’s plush toy has to get surgery. His little expressions are too much! What is the name of his toy again? Don’t tell me…”
Officer Unfriendly brushed past Sam and walked directly to the sled. She pivoted to keep her eyes on him. Any effort to remain casual was long gone. She knew she probably looked like a deer caught in headlights, but what she looked like didn’t matter anymore.
Officer Unfriendly bent over and patted Harry on the head. Harry didn’t react. Both dogs hadn’t moved a muscle since Penelope had told them to stay. They were fixated on Penelope’s hand in her pocket.
Sam moved to the back of the sled. She and Penelope had tucked the blanket around the dog so that he couldn’t be seen through the slats on the sides of the wagon. But now she saw that her dog’s paw and arm were exposed. She spotted the little needle in his arm for the IV and cursed under her breath.
Officer Unfriendly circled the sled slowly. Had he heard her? Sam cursed again silently. He stopped beside her and she watched his eyes. His head tilted as he stared directly at the paw. Had she just given herself away? If this was poker, she had bluffed and he had seen her tell. Sam had nobody to blame but herself.
“Dennis,” Officer Unfriendly barked.
“Nuk Nuk!” Dennis blurted, smiling at Penelope. “Oh, sorry. Yes?”
Officer Unfriendly flicked his head back, an authoritative “Come here”. Sam’s stomach seized.
“Right, okay. Sorry,” said Dennis, walking towards Officer Unfriendly.
Officer Unfriendly stepped closer to the wagon. “Let’s get going,” he said, using his body to block Dennis’ view of the paw. “Got a lot of ground to cover.”
“Can’t wait to see your next video!” Dennis shouted out to Penelope, as the two men continued down the trail.
Officer Unfriendly looked back too. Without smiling, he winked at Sam.
Are you enjoying the first chapters of Fool’s Bluff? Please share this with your friends and family who would also like this story!