Looking After Lucy by Pauline Bradbury
The little dog was lovely, but who did she belong to?
IT’S that dog again, Mum!” Joey’s shouts reached the kitchen where Lou was wrestling with the contents of her small freezer compartment, which had slithered on to the floor as she pulled a loaf out from the back.
“Just a minute,” she called, trying to fit it all in again quickly.
With one firm shove she managed to slam the door on the muddle.
I shall have to sort it later, she told herself. She had all day, after all.
She wished that she didn’t have all day. She wished that she was hurrying Joey off to school and then going on to work. A normal day.
Instead, Joey’s asthma was bad again and she’d had to call the shop and settle for yet another day’s pay docked from her weekly wage.
At least it’s not one of his bad attacks, she thought, because there he was, nose pressed against the window, pointing excitedly outside.
“Look, Mum,” he wheezed. “It’s the same dog that we saw yesterday. I don’t think it’s got a home.”
He turned to look at Lou hopefully.
“It knows I’m here. Can we give it a biscuit?”
It was the same dog, though its silky coat, freckled a pretty brown and white, was now looking rather wet and grubby.
It had rained a lot, and it certainly didn’t look as if it had spent the night warmly tucked up anywhere.
On the other hand, it wasn’t thin, so it couldn’t have been a stray for very long.
Lou gazed at Joey. How could she refuse him?
He put up with his bouts of asthma so stoically, and when Steven had left, taking his dog with him, Joey had had two traumas to overcome. His dad leaving, and having to cope without his dad’s bull terrier, Captain.
“I have to take Captain with me, Joe,” Steven had said in his abrupt way. “He looks after the van for me while I deliver. I’ll buy you another dog.”
Of course, he never did, nor had Lou expected him to, any more than she expected any regular contact, but at least the money came through all right, so with her own job as well, she could just about manage.
“As long as you promise to sit quietly afterwards, Joey. You know getting excited makes your chest worse,” Lou relented.
“And some water,” Joey pleaded.
Lou forbore to say that there were plenty of puddles outside. Instead, she found a packet of plain biscuits and handed them to Joey.
“Two,” she said firmly. Together they went to open the door.
The dog ran towards them, tail wagging, its body wriggling with delight at having found friends.
The biscuits were gone in a trice.
“One more, and I’ll fetch some water.” Lou turned back into the kitchen.
“Don’t let it come in,” she warned.
She was too late. When she turned round, one smiling seven-year-old and one bedraggled dog were behind her.
“It needs dried,” Joey told her, dragging the kitchen towel off a chair.
Lou watched in exasperation as Joey patted it gently.
“It’s got long ears!” he exclaimed. “And its hair is a bit wavy as if it’s been to the hairdresser’s.”
As Joey giggled at his own joke, Lou realised that he was hardly wheezing at all. Contact with this dog was relaxing him, just like having Captain around used to do.
“I think it might be a spaniel,” she told him. “They have long ears. I guess there’s somebody out there who is very worried about it.”
But she knew when she was beaten.
Before she rang the police, the little dog was destined to have a morning with Joey.
“I think it would like a rest now,” Joey announced. “Come on, little dog. You can sit with me.”
“Shall I put the telly on?” Lou asked.
“It might frighten it,” Joey said earnestly. “I think it wants to be quiet.”
Ten minutes later, boy and dog were sound asleep. After Joey’s difficult night, Lou could only feel huge relief.
Shelve the problem for a few hours, she told herself. For Joey’s sake.
Lou couldn’t believe how much better Joey was after a couple of hours’ deep sleep. Neither he nor the dog had stirred.
“Can I have baked beans on toast, Mum?” he asked brightly with no trace of a wheeze. “And Shadow wants something, too.”
“The dog you’ve been looking after? She’s mine”
“Shadow?” Lou echoed.
“We used to have a story at nursery about Shadow. Shadow the sheepdog, it was called. But my Shadow isn’t a sheepdog, is he?”
“No, and he’s not yours, love. Not to keep. But he can have some porridge. While you and Shadow are eating, I’ll ring the police.”
The constable was not very helpful. Apart from taking a description of the dog and her own details, he asserted that the station had no facilities for holding homeless dogs, and advised taking it straight to the RSPCA kennels, whereupon he rattled off their number.
That organisation was very understanding and helpful, but didn’t have an immediate answer.
“If you can’t get the dog to us, I’m afraid it may be a couple of days before we can collect it. We’re run off our feet here.”
So, giving her details once again, Lou resigned herself to having the visitor a bit longer.
“That doesn’t mean he’s ours, love,” she warned Joey. “We’ve just got to look after him over the weekend.”
“Two whole days!” he shouted joyfully, bending to hug his new friend. “I found Captain’s old collar and lead. Dad gave them to me when he left.”
“In that case, if you feel up to walking to the corner shop, we’ll take Shadow to buy some dog food.”
The outing was a great success. Shadow trotted happily alongside them with Joey proudly holding his lead.
On the way home, Joey hopped and skipped and was hardly wheezing at all.
For the last few yards, Lou had the odd feeling there was somebody just behind them, although when they crossed the road, she couldn’t see anybody.
The street lights were coming on so there were lots of shadows. She must have imagined it.
That’s what a sleepless night does, she thought. It plays tricks on your imagination.
Even so, before she hung up their coats, she drew the front-room curtains firmly across.
“After I’ve done the Saturday chores,” Lou promised Joey the next morning, “we could take Shadow to the park and have a walk.”
By the time they had walked round the park twice, Joey’s eyes were sparkling with pleasure.
“I wish that we could keep him for ever,” he said longingly.
“I think that Shadow might not be a him but a her,” Lou suggested tentatively.
“I still think he’s a boy,” Joey replied firmly.
Lou decided now was not the time for an explanation, because for the last few minutes she’d had that uneasy feeling that there was somebody following them.
“That’s enough exercise for this morning,” she told Joey. “Perhaps more later. You must rest now and maybe practise your reading. You can read to Shadow.”
That idea went down very well, and soon Joey was valiantly spelling out words and pointing at the pictures for Shadow, who was nestled beside him.
“I’ve still got that freezer to sort out from yesterday,” Lou told him, leaving them to it.
She had just taken everything out and was about to put it all back in tidily when there was a knock at the door, followed by the bell.
“What on earth . . .?” she muttered, once again gathering up the frozen packages and pushing them all back in. “Who can be making a racket like that?”
It was a skinny-looking guy, younger than Lou, and although he was all smiles, they seemed forced, making her feel uncomfortable.
“Yes?” she managed, hoping Joey wouldn’t come out.
“Excuse me,” he apologised, his voice sounding over-polite. “I hope I didn’t startle you, but I expect you can guess why I’m here.”
Lou shook her head in bewilderment.
“My dog,” he explained. “The dog you’ve been looking after. She’s mine.”
“He’s a stray,” Lou blurted out defensively. “We thought he was a stray.”
“No,” he corrected her. “She’s mine. Got a pedigree as long as your arm. Worth a lot of money.”
He was still smiling, but Lou couldn’t warm to him.
“I spotted you walking in the park with your little lad. It looked as if he was enjoying himself with the dog, but right’s right. Got to have my dog back.”
At that moment, Joey put his head round the door enquiringly.
“This is Shadow’s owner,” Lou said hurriedly. “He’s come to collect him, so can you fetch him?”
Joey looked from Lou to the man, then instead of bursting into tears and making a huge fuss, he disappeared back into the front room.
Lou held her breath, half wondering if he would refuse to give the dog up, but she needn’t have worried because a moment later he reappeared, having put Captain’s old collar and lead on Shadow.
“Here,” he said gravely, handing the lead over. “I think you should take better care of him, then he wouldn’t have got lost. Mum and me were just looking after him.”
Turning abruptly, he went back into the front room and slammed the door.
The guy’s grin was ingratiating.
“Nice lad you’ve got there,” he muttered. “I’ll be on my way with her, then.”
“What’s her name?” Lou asked, doubtful about handing the dog over so easily, but not knowing what else to do.
“Lucy,” he replied promptly.
As he said her name, the dog looked up knowingly, ears pricked, and wagging her tail slightly.
That was genuine, Lou thought in relief.
“And a very lucky Lucy to have been looked after by such nice people.” His smile was almost a leer.
“Have you got far to go?” Lou was desperately trying to think of anything else she should ask, but her mind was a blank.
“My car is round the corner,” he replied promptly, and scooping the dog up quickly, he turned to go. “See you around.” Again came the smile. “Not if I see you first,” Lou whispered as she shut the door and leaned against it for a moment, trying to collect her thoughts ready to console Joey.
But in the end, it was Joey who consoled her.
“I’m not upset because Shadow had to go,” he told her between hiccupping sobs. “I knew he wasn’t ours. It’s because I don’t think that man looked like a nice person to have Shadow.”
Lou was thinking much the same, but she didn’t want Joey to know that.
“He was probably a bit strange because he knew he should have taken better care of Shadow and was feeling guilty,” she told him.
“He never even made a fuss of him or thanked us,” Joey went on indignantly. “We won’t ever see him again.”
Lou could feel that Joey was working himself up to tears again, or one of his rare tantrums.
“Think positively, Joey.” She smiled cheerfully. “We did a good turn. There is a saying that one good turn deserves another. Something nice might happen to us next.”
She got up and switched on the TV.
“Let’s play one of
your favourites while you have a rest,” she suggested, hoping that the distraction would ward off any return of his wheezing. “I’ll make a snack.”
“Not hungry,” Joey muttered as she set a tray down beside him. “Do you think that man takes care of Shadow?”
“Well, he must feed him properly,” Lou answered, thinking it best to keep to Joey’s assertion that Shadow was a boy, even though the guy had called the dog Lucy. “He wasn’t thin, was he?”
Lou wasn’t feeling hungry, either. Perhaps she should have been more friendly and not been put off by the guy’s smarmy attitude.
Maybe he’d only been like that because he was embarrassed.
It wasn’t like her to be tongue tied, either.
She had handled the situation badly, whereas Joey had done so well, even parting with Captain’s collar and lead, which he had obviously been treasuring all these months.
“I’m not that hungry either, Joey,” she admitted. “Maybe we can have these sandwiches later. How about having some crisps for a treat, and then a banana?”
She got her reward because Joey’s face lit up. He wasn’t allowed crisps very often.
As she stood up, the doorbell rang piercingly, making them both jump.
Joey’s face was half apprehensive, half expectant, whereas hers was wholly anxious.
“Has that man brought Shadow back?” Joey wondered.
“Maybe it’s best if you sit tight here,” Lou told him.
That was too much to expect, however. She could feel Joey hovering behind her as, trying to appear unconcerned, she opened the door.
Another unknown man stood there.
“Lou Jones? I’m sorry to bother you,” he said hesitantly. “I’ve come about the dog you found. I got the details from the police.”
Lou stared at him. “And the RSPCA,” he added helpfully.
“But . . .” Lou floundered.
Joey squeezed past her. “We have just given Shadow back to his owner,” he explained firmly.
“You found a brown and white spaniel, I was told,” the man continued, smiling down at Joey. “She’s mine. Well, not exactly, but I was looking after her.”
“So who was the other man?” Joey demanded. “Yes, who?” Lou echoed. She pulled herself together. This man was entirely different from the first one. Older, reassuringly normal and sounding very anxious.
Suddenly he registered what they had said.
“You mean you haven’t got her? You gave her to someone else?” he asked, running his fingers through his dark hair agitatedly.
“He told us the dog was his.” Lou nodded. “He even knew her name. What else could we do?”
He looked puzzled for a moment, then his face cleared.
“Well, of course, it was on the poster. I know what’s happened now,” he declared. “I have to go. I’ll be back.”
He raced out to his parked car and revved off.
“What was all that about?” Lou gazed at Joey.
“I wish we had kept Shadow for that man,” Joey replied. “He was much nicer.”
Lou had to agree about that. He was the sort of person you immediately knew was trustworthy.
“I hope he will come back.”
Only to hear the end of the story, Lou reminded herself, though deep down she recognised that in those few minutes her heart had been oddly stirred.
The rest of the day dragged. Neither she nor Joey could settle.
“Shall we pop to the corner shop, love?” she suggested hopefully.
“No,” Joey answered vehemently. “That man might come back.”
At last he decided to get his Lego box out, so Lou went into the kitchen to sort out her freezer compartment.
“Third time lucky,” she said to herself as she began to empty it.
“Mum, there’s a car parking outside!” Joey called. “It’s that man and he’s got Shadow.”
Lou rushed into the hall at the same time as the bell rang, but Joey beat her to it.
“Shadow!” he exclaimed delightedly as the dog, tail wagging, bounded over the threshold.
“Hey, mind your manners, Lucy.” The man laughed. “We haven’t been invited in yet. I’m Toby Weston.”
His grin was friendly and infectious.
“Please come in.” Lou smiled back at him. “We want to hear the rest of the story.”
It didn’t take long. Toby had been looking after his parents’ beloved spaniel, Lucy, while they went away for a few days.
“Lucy?” Joey queried. “A girl dog?”
Toby grinned at him. “Yes, definitely a girl. Anyway,” he went on, “two days ago Lucy slipped out the back gate and disappeared.
“I was devastated, and I knew my mother would be beside herself, especially as Lucy is a pregnant mum.
“I spent ages searching, and I put up posters everywhere with her picture and name, offering a reward.
“Then I rang the police and the RSPCA and got your details. I can’t thank you enough for looking after her.”
“But how did you get her back from that guy who took her from us?” Lou was bewildered.
“It was quite simple. I had offered a very substantial reward. That guy had obviously seen a poster, then spotted you out with her and thought he would make some easy money.”
“Yes. We did go for two nice walks,” Joey told him with a grin.
So somebody was following us, Lou thought.
“I went straight home,” Toby continued, “And sure enough this guy turned up on my doorstep, demanding the reward.
“I was so relieved to get Lucy back, I nearly gave him the money there and then, but I mentioned the police giving me your address, and that I must get in touch with them.
“That put the wind up him, and he muttered something about being happy to help, handed over Lucy and legged it pretty quick.”
“Lucy,” Joey said, hugging her tightly. “That’s a nice name.”
“So the reward is yours.” Toby smiled at them both. “And here’s the collar and lead you gave her.”
“We don’t want a reward, do we, Joey?”
Suddenly Lou felt relaxed and happy.
“We just liked having her. Would you like a coffee before you go?”
Toby followed her into the kitchen, where the contents of her freezer were rapidly defrosting.
“Oh, no!” Lou gasped. “I forgot I was doing that!”
“You put the kettle on and I’ll see if anything is retrievable,” Toby said. “Then maybe tomorrow I could give you a lift when you go shopping.” “That’s kind of you.” Joey came running in, Lucy’s ears flopping as she bounced after him.
“Will I be able to see Lucy sometimes?” he asked shyly.
“Of course. She only lives a couple of miles away from you. Not far from me. And when she has puppies you’ll be able to see them, too.”
Joey sighed in contentment.
“You said we’d get a good turn, Mum. Is this it?”
Lou looked across at Toby.
“I think it might be,” she said with a smile. ■