Still a wolf, and in full daylight! Moon had set long ago. He looked a mess. Wet, bloody, tired, scared. And confusedI'll bet he was! By unspoken agreement my companions hung back to let me approach first.
"Mr. Pffurrey? Mr. Pffurreywe're not here to attack you. Can I come closer?"
Peter Burrey did something I had never seen him do before. He dragged himself out from under the van, then rolled over and exposed his belly in submission. He had done that many times in play, but that doesn't count. This was the real thing.
I walked over and took his neck between my jaws, squeezed it gently a couple of times, then began to investigate the wounds. There were a lot of them, and they needed stitches. A few deep ones too, maybe. "Can you walk? Would you like some pffeanut pffutter?"
He took the peanut butter. All of it. Then he stood, achingly, and looked for a puddle to drink from. He hadn't said a word. After he was done drinking I asked again, "Can you walk a long way, or should I get Mooney to come here for you?"
Mr. Burrey didn't try to speak with words. He just lifted his head to look me in the eyes, nodded, and started slowly back the way we had come.
The trip home was long, and rather boring. Mr. Burrey and I did it all at a walk, while the others ranged widely, sweeping in to check on us from time to time. It was early afternoon when we arrived back at Sunbow.
I wanted to present us all favorably to Mooney, so I stopped us at Fry Creek before we reached the house. "Alright, everyone in excepfft Mr. Pffurrey! That means you, too, Mr. Fox-god, you. No victory dinner if you're muddy! I guarantee you won't pffe apffle to dodge that rule!"
Mr. Burrey watched us from the bank, but when we were mostly done he edged over and began to enter, slowly. His skin twitched strongly as the glass-clear water slipped into one wound after another, and curls of mud and blood twisted away from him down current. He dipped his head and shoulders under the water, shook himself, and repeated the process until his fur and wounds were as clean as they would get.
The aroma of stewed chicken and vegetables was everywhere, even by the streamside. Maddening. The source of it all was one of Mooney's commune potsalmost big enough to hold me, and with its own separate propane burner. Mooney was not taking chances about running out of food. We all hurried over that way as soon as we were finished washing.
Mouse was waiting there with Mooneyhadn't gone to school at all, obviously. If this didn't count as an excuse to stay home, I don't know what would.
"Well, you folks certainly took your time! Aren't you hungry? It's a good thing I didn't put in the dumplings yet. I'll do that now. Is Mr. Burrey okay?" Mooney had not yet noticed the new wolf in our midst.
"Mr. Pffurrey is hurt, pffut he can walk. He'll need to see a doctor today."
"That's not surprising. But nothat spell is supposed to heal his wounds, isn't it? Whatever. I assume you got him to his van and he was able to drive it safely."
"No. He was already pffy his van, pffut he couldn't drive it. We pffrought him here."
"Here? That had to have been a long walk! You should have got me to go pick him up! Where isoh, dear! Is that you, Peter?" Mooney had never seen Mr. Burrey as a wolf before. She had only heard my stories. She believed them, certainly, but that's not the same thing.
"Why are you still a wolf? It's not full moon any more! Not until tonight. I thought this thing didn't happen in the daytime. Stinky! What's going on? Please? I am totally, totally lost this time."
"I'll tell you if you keepff working on the dumpfflings. None of us has eaten since yesterday. Excepfft Mr. Pffurrey. He ate the pffeanut pffutter."
I told of the night's events, taking my time and doing it properly, as John would have. I had Fox and Wolf in my audience, after all. And the Spirit Pups.
Mooney seemed rather upset that Mr. Burrey had not turned back into a human at dawn. Considering all that had happened, I thought just getting us all out of it alive was accomplishment enough. I said so.
"Yes, Stinky, I understand all that. But don't you realize, this change could be permanent! The demon is destroyed, Lykos almost destroyed. Who's going to change him back? Maybe it will fade in a day or so, when the moon is less full."
"You don't really care, do you?"
"Well, no. Not really. I don't think Mr. Burrey does either. He once told me the only thing that pffothered him apffout the werewolf curse was losing control and killing things he shouldn't. I think that was from the demon. Now it's gone."
"But Mr. Burrey is human!"
"Oh, forget it. Whatever else is going on, he needs medical help. At least the vet is cheaper. We'll go there as soon as dinner is finished. Oh! I forgot. Peter can't have dinner! His stomach needs to be empty for the anesthesia. You understand about that, don't you Peter? You might throw up and inhale it into your lungs."
Mr. Burrey nodded his head sadly.
"You won't be offended if I take you to the vet, will you? I'm sure your regular doctor would have a hard time with this." She smiled for a moment, then realized what she was doing and made herself stop.
Mr. Burrey shook his head, then tried to speak.
"Yes, Peter, I understand you fine. Coyote used to talk like that when he was first learning. You're saying the vet is okay as far as you're concerned. But I'll have to ignore you now for a little while. This dinner serving is going to take my full attention. I'll be back with you as soon as I can."
The victory dinner was not formal. Most of us were talking animals, but we didn't talk much. There were no speeches, yet it still felt as if the meal had great symbolic importance. On a hunch, I nosed a small dab of meat and gravy from my bowl into a clean one and presented it to Mr. Burrey. He looked me in the eyes for a moment, then lowered his head to lick the bowl empty. Fox and the others seemed pleased, and Mooney pretended not to notice.
Mooney wanted me to go along and help her with Mr. Burrey, but she also wanted me to stay behind to keep the others in line. Lazytail solved the problem for her.
"I'll keep them out of trouble." Still so strange to hear words like that coming out of her! "Wolf needs to rest, as we all do, but she can do that best in her own body. She says she was pleased by her visit here, and she won't treat Coyote and his
won't treat Coyote like an enemy until he deserves it again. She says Coyote was a most excellent magic partner! Wolf also says I should let my season pass without mating any more, no matter what Coyote or I want. It might disturb the work that was done last night. She is leaving me now. Farewell."
She rushed over to reassure me she was alright, but she didn't use any more words. Just my Lazytail again. Who needs words, anyway?
We left with Fox joking that he shouldn't be any trouble at all, with Mouse and Lazytail to keep him in line. He was planning to nap anywaymight even stay for a visit. The Spirit Pups had disappeared right after they finished eating.
We met Dr. Benton during business hours this time. He seemed much happier to see us that way.
"More wounds, eh? And another 'shepherd cross' dog. I should have known. What a monster he is! Friendly, though. Yes, Furry FeetI know you're not really a monster. I just meant you're very big and impressive
there, that's better. These wounds are remarkably clean! Did you wash them?" Dr. Benton was talking to Mr. Burrey as he said that, but Mooney answered him.
"No, but Furry Feet did. All my dogs have to jump in the creek and rinse themselves off before they get fed. I don't like muddy dogs in the house."
"Really! I wish my other patients were so cooperative. I'm rather surprised he went in with wounds like these. It must have hurt! I'll get right to work on this new 'dog' of yours as soon as I finish my last appointmentanother half-hour or so. Even with antibiotics there may be quite a bit of drainage, and possible delayed healing. Nothing serious, though."
"I can't tell how glad I am to hear that, Doctor. I feel partly responsible for Furry Feet getting bit up like this. Not that he didn't have it coming to him."
"Hmm? Oh, sorry about that, Dr. Benton. I didn't really mean what I just said. No dog deserves this." Mooney didn't apologize to Furry Feet, though.
"By the way, Dr. BentonFurry Feet can be a little hard to handle sometimes, but he'll be fine if Sin-Ka-Lip stays with him. Is that permitted?"
"Of course! We're always glad to see Sin-Ka-Lip!" Dr. Benton turned away from Mr. Burrey and gave me the attention I deserved. I wasn't supposed to get an exam, but I could tell Dr. Benton was doing that as we greeted each other. Most humans don't peel your eyelids and lips back, sniff your ears, and handle your genitals while saying hello.
"Speaking of wounds, I can't help but remark on Sin-Ka-Lip, here. He's in superb shape, as usual. Not only has the fur grown back flawlessly, but I can't even find any scars. That fight injury he had last fall was not trivial! There should be major, permanent scars from it, but I can't see or feel a thing. Like it never happened."
"Oh, it's nothing, Doctor. Just more of that hippie metaphysical stuff. 'Magic', if you will. Nothing you could believe in, and it doesn't always work. Today we want Science. Do it your wayuse all the drugs and machines you like. I'm tired of magic."
"Uh, yes. If that's the way you want it. But I really would be happy to listen to some of your 'hippie metaphysical stuff' some time. Normally I change the subject when I hear that line, but it's different with you. I'll try not to pry, but please let me know if you change your mind."
"Okay. I just might, sometime, but not today. I need to sort out a lot of things for myself, first. But I want you to know that I really appreciate your patience in all this, and I do trust you. It's just that the situation is very complicated, and it's hard to understand any of it without knowing all of it. I don't suppose that helps much, does it?"
"No, not really, but thanks anyway. NowI need to get myself moving again or I won't have time to work on Furry Feet before my staff goes home. I won't need your help today like I did last time, but you'll be able to visit first thing tomorrow morning, and I'll call right away if there are any problems. Bye."
I tried to nap during Mr. Burrey's surgery, but I couldn't do it with so many powerful noises and smells around me. I gave up after a time, and leaned against the chain link kennel door, waiting. We had adjoining kennels, and I had a good view as two small women staggered in with Mr. Burrey on a stretcher, set him down heavily, gently rolled him off onto a pad of folded blankets, and propped him into a comfortable position with chest down and neck extended. Mr. Burrey was a patchwork of square shaved areasone for each wound. Half his fur was missing, and he looked horrible. Still, the wounds were cleaned and stitched, and to me they looked like they would heal well. And the spring shedding time was not far off. Soon we would all be looking horrible.
As they attended to him the humans joked about Furry Feet in a crude but friendly way, remarking that with all those bite wounds in the hindquarters it was a wonder he hadn't lost his nuts in the fight. The doctor should have castrated him when he had the chancekeep him out of trouble like this in the future. I wondered if they had said the same things about me when I was asleep, but then remembered it had been late at night. Just Mooney and the vet.
The clinic was beginning to close down, and night had already fallen when Sheriff Pickworth arrived. The dogs were quiet at that moment, so I heard every word. He was coming for us.
My belly clenched in panic, and the hackles went up. I felt betrayed. How had he known we were there? Mooney had trusted Dr. Benton! I unfastened the kennel latch and prepared to
I couldn't think of what to do. It would be hard enough to get myself out, and Mr. Burrey was only just beginning to stir. I waited.
Sheriff Pickworth was arguing at the reception desk, really acting like a jerk. That seemed strange. Police didn't argue much in the movies. Not with regular people, at least. Regular people just did as they were told. Maybe the clinic humans had not called him after all.
Dr. Benton came back to where we were. He seemed upset. "I hate lying like that," he muttered to himself. "Hate it." He was going to say more, but I spoke instead. "Dr. Pffenson, we can't go with Sheriff Pffickworth. He'll kill us! Can't you helpff us? Pfflease? Mooney said you're our friend!"
Dr. Benton's expression changed from anger and indecision to surprise, but his scent didn't changewasn't time for it, even if it was going to. Scents are not always that specific, anyway.
Dr. Benton looked at me then. Really saw me.
"So you talk, too. I should have known. I suppose you're expecting me to go through the whole 'reality shock' routine now? Sorry, but we don't have the time. I was planning to get you out of here anyway."
Now it was my turn to be surprised. I had never thought he would react like that!
"Nancy is stalling the Sheriff right now. When we get you two out of the building, she'll let him do a search. I don't suppose your friend can walk yet, but let's try anyway. He's a real pain on the stretcher, and I don't want to involve the others any more than necessary. Does he talk too?"
"Yes. A little. Pffut he understands just fine. Mr. Pfur
Furry Feet! Wake upff! We have to go now."
Mr. Burrey opened his eyes, but he didn't move. He had a confused, frightened lookhardly awake at all. Like he was in a nightmare with his eyes open.
"Here, let me help. I hate to disturb them when they're coming out like this, but
" Dr. Benton stopped talking as he opened the kennel door and began to massage Mr. Burrey's head, neck, and back. Then he rolled him from side to side, letting him fall over gently each time. Two or three rolls and he was trying to stand up, which the doctor let him do. He took a leash down from the wall, slipped it on, pulled gently. Mr. Burrey sat down.
"Excuse me, Dr. Pffenson. He doesn't know apffout leashes. Let me try."
The back door was quite close to us, and the staff parking area just beyond that. Together we half-carried, half-pushed Mr. Burrey out of the building and into Dr. Benton's car. It was a station wagon with the back seat folded down, and the two of us fit there quite comfortably. All the windows were at my level, so I even had a view.
At first the roads were unfamiliar to me, but then we came to country I knew. Up ahead we would cross Wynoochee on the Geissler Road bridgealready an easy lope home.
Dr. Benton spoke after we crossed the bridge. "I know I'm not very experienced with this sort of thing, but I think we're being followed. There are headlights behind us that don't come closer even when I slow down, and now they've crossed the bridge, too. Most of the traffic goes the other way. I've never been there before, but I know Ms. Sklarsen's place is not much farther up this road. Maybe it would be better if you walked the rest of the way. If that's Sheriff Pickworth behind us, I can keep driving and lure him away from you. I don't suppose you know how he found out you were at my clinic?"
"No, I don't. That sounds like a good pfflan, though! Stopff where you like and we'll get out as quickly as we can. We know the way from here. When things quiet down I'll ask Mooney to invite you for a visit. Thank you very much for your helpff!"
Dr. Benton found a nice gravel shoulder with good cover nearby, crunched quickly to a stop, then flung his door open to run back and help me with mine. I pushed Mr. Burrey from the inside and we had him spilled out onto the ground in a few seconds, with Dr. Benton and his car gone a moment after that. He had to keep moving so our follower wouldn't become suspicious. My job was to get Mr. Burrey and myself out of sight before he caught up with us.
We succeeded with half of that. Our follower did turn out to be Sheriff Pickworth, and we were out of view when he reached the turnout, but he was suspicious after all, and pulled to a stop no more than thirty feet from where Mr. Burrey and I lay hidden.
I could have disappeared quietly enough, but not with Mr. Burrey. He was still barely able to stand. All we could do was stay where we were, hoping the human would lose interest and drive on.
He didn't. I guess police are taught to carefully search places where suspicious vehicles pull over for no apparent reason. Sheriff Pickworth knew this game better than we did. He rolled slowly forward along the entire length of the turnout, and finally came to a stop next to a big wooden power and phone line pole. He flicked his car searchlight through the bushes a few times, then got out and began to search the ground and the roadside brush more carefullygoing over it all inch by inch with the help of a hand flashlight. He didn't look in a hurry to leave, and if he kept up like that he would certainly find us. We weren't all that well hidden.
Why is it the folks I really don't want to deal with are the ones who most wish to find me? It seemed a little outside help would be exceedingly useful right then. If I could get it. Desperately I attempted to summon the Spirit Pups, calling to them without words.
"Children! My children! Come to me! I need protection!"
They came to me. How they do it I still don't know, but there they were.
"Shall we kill him?" "We won't eat him if you don't want us to!" "Okay, okaywe won't kill him." "We can do a trick!" "Not a gentle one, please." "We don't like him either."
I wanted to tell them to hush, but they were using the mind-speech so I guess it didn't matter. Sheriff Pickworth certainly didn't seem to notice.
"I was thinking of a trick. Not a gentle one. How about the Iron Song? It would be good practice."
"Oh, yes!" "The Iron Song!" "Do you just want to destroy his gun, or the car, too?" "It will be hard to save the car, but we can try." "Should we try?"
"No, don't bother. He can walk home. And anyway, I want to see what happens."
They began to sing softlyall of themand they forgot to block me out. Or maybe they didn't forget. I heard it all clearly and it was a simple thing, really. So simple. I joined in.
Sheriff heard us, or at least that part which could be heard with the ears. He drew his gun and turned his flashlight outward. We finished our song and waited, all of us pressed low into the leaves and earth.
"Who's there? Come on out where I can see you!" He was trying to sound confident and authoritative, and not succeeding very well. Suddenly he realized how exposed he was, and moved back toward his car. If one of us had been a human with a gun, he would have been a very easy target.
He called out again from behind the car, then opened his door to get at something inside. The door hinges squealed loudly when he did that.
Just then the engine stopped. He had left it idling, headlights on, as police officers are fond of doing, and it stopped by itselfran raggedly for a short time and then shuddered into silence. The headlights were still on.
The Sheriff turned the key to restart his engine, but the starter made a horrible squealing sound that hurt my ears, and then no sound at all. The headlights went off shortly afterward. It was a very nice car, with one of those computers that control everything, and I guess it didn't like our Song. Computers have little bits of iron here and there, I am told. Transformer cores and circuit breaker actuators were a couple that John mentioned. Little bits of iron rust faster than big bits.
The car was already dead, but Sheriff Pickworth didn't realize it yet. He was having trouble with his gun. It was getting hottoo hot to holdand finally he was forced to set it down. He did that almost silently. Just a few muttered swear words. Muttered with great feeling.
He had stepped away from the car and was fiddling with his belt radio when the flashlight failed. Must have been a steel spring or switch part in there somewhere. Sheriff Pickworth was in the dark, and the radio didn't seem to be working either. I left our hiding spot to stalk him, or rather stroll up to him in the darkness. With the clouds blocking starlight, he couldn't see a thing. When I was very close, I spoke to him.
"Well, hello, mortal! Are your toys giving you troupffle? That's very sad. You humans do depffend on them these days!"
"Who's there? Show yourself!" He reached into his pocket and pulled out what looked like a knife, but he couldn't get it open.
"I am Coyote, and I'm standing right in front of you. I can see you just fine. Too pffad you can't see me. Don't worry. Moon will rise soon, and you'll pffe apffle to see again. Pffut you'll have light much sooner than that! Can you feel it yet? I can."
The human had been staring toward me as I spokeunable to see me but knowing where I stood from the sound of my voice. Now he began to shift uneasily from foot to foot, then suddenly sat down on the gravel and began to untie his shoes, fingers jerking in his haste. I smelled scorched leather and rubber.
Some shoes have steel inserts in front to protect the toes when things are dropped on them. Sheriff Pickworth was wearing a pair like that, or rather, just taking one off. I wondered if he was wearing anything else with steel in it, but I was distracted by the car. It wasn't actually glowing yet, but the heat was intense, even from where I stood, and it stank of melting plastic. More than just melting. There was smoke coming out too.
Television cars always explode violently at the slightest pretext. John and Mooney hate that, and say it rarely happens in real life, but it looked to me like this car might be an exception. I wasn't sure whether the gas tank or the cartridges in Sheriff Pickworth's gun would go first, but I was far too close in any case. I began to back away.
"You know, Sheriff Pffickworth, that car of yours is getting very hot. It might even expfflode. I wouldn't pffe standing so close to it if I were you."
I could tell he was frightened and confused, but this new danger was one any human could comprehend, and it took precedence over all others. The man took my advice and stood up hastily, then began to step gingerly down the road, away from my voice and toward civilization. His gait was painful and uncertain, but quite rapid for a stocking-footed human in the dark. He kept his shoulders hunched as if expecting me to run him down and slay him at any moment. Stupid human! Only cats play with their food in that way.
Okay, so coyotes do that too, sometimes. Never mind.
Sheriff Pickworth still carried his smoldering shoes in one hand as he stumbled away. They might even do him some good, once all the iron was rusted away. The toe parts would be burned off, but for a long walk home they were far better than nothing. I stood looking after him, gloating, and then remembered my own danger. Or ratherMr. Burrey's danger. I could run away easily enough, but Mr. Burrey could not. I ran back to our hiding place and tried to nudge him to his feet.
"Come on, Children! You can helpff me with this too, can't you?"
"No! It's forbidden!" they all laughed, and rushed to my aid. We had him safely clear in plenty of timetook him down the road toward Sunbow and away from Sheriff Pickworth.
When I thought we had gone far enough, I stopped to watch the car. Smoke was already bursting out from every opening, and soon flames became visible too.
The car exploded. Really, truly exploded, just like a bomb. I guess that's what happens when gasoline ignites after boiling until the steel gas tank ruptures from the pressure. I had heard about shock waves, but never felt one before. It hit me in the chest like a surf breaker, and almost knocked me over. And my poor ears! Eyes were shot too. That car had been parked next to a wooden power line pole, and the fireball was considerably taller than the pole.
I stood there, stunned. Even the Spirit Pups were impressed. "Your 'Science' really is rather powerful Medicine!" Cicéqi remarked. "We'll have to be careful with it." If she had been using words I would not have heard her, my ears were ringing so.
The fire had not gone out with the explosion. Bits of burning car were everywhere, and the power pole was burning too. That pole carried high voltage and phone lines for the whole valley, and it looked like we might be losing them again. Oh, well. That's what repair crews are for.
I stood there in the center of the road, admiring the destruction I had wrought, and when my vision had cleared a bit I saw Sheriff Pickworth staring back at us. He was well beyond the car, and had not been hurt by the explosion, but he was still close enough to see us clearly with all the new firelight around.
Mr. Burrey was not ready for it, but I hustled him into the heavy brush anyway. No way was I going to leave him near that road! Fortunately the movement helped his drugs to wear off a little more, and he was able to keep on walking until we made it home. John's truck was in the yard when we got there, but the house was mostly darkjust some candlelight coming from the kitchen. Power really had failed, but the weekend had begun. It was Friday night.
I told them all about Sheriff Pickworth and his car. Everything. They were suitably impressed, especially the humans. "Don't you ever try stuff like that near Sunbow!" Mooney said. "I'd like to tell you not to try stuff like that at all, but it is the purpose of your quest, after all. But maybe you could wait a bit. Until you're older."
"And wiser, too. Presumably," laughed John. "Don't hold your breath, Mooney."
= chapter 26 =
The power came on later that night, but failed again before morning. I could tell by the sounds the refrigerator made and then failed to make. No matter. We were getting used to power failures, and there was the generator if we really wanted electricity. I was planning to do as little as possible on Saturday, and that's what I did. It's what we all did.
The newspaper had a front-page story about a County Sheriff who had collided at high speed with a power pole on West Wynoochee Road, totally destroying his car but emerging miraculously unhurt. The incident was under investigation, but the reporter's usually reliable sources suggested that extreme negligence and possible intoxication were involved. There had not even been any skid marks. The name of the officer was being withheld pending an official report. The article also mentioned that power restoration might be delayed slightly, due to the surprisingly poor condition of the neighboring poles. The steel insulator supports and cross-member bolts were rusted so badly they had come apart. It was almost as if the wires had fallen down from their own weight, rather than being knocked down. The damaged pole was badly charred, but still standing.
We had a call from the Sheriff's Department that afternoon. It was not Sheriff Pickworth, but someone higher upsome sort of commissioner. Mooney said the man was very polite and apologetic, and wanted to know what sort of dealings she had had with Pickworth. I was standing beside Mooney as she heard all this, and she was clearly at a loss about how to answer best. Finally she settled on aggressiveness.
"I'm afraid Sheriff Pickworth and I have never gotten along very well. I think he was responsible for getting me falsely arrested when those marijuana plants were found out this way a year or so ago. Since then he watches a lot, like he's waiting for me to do something illegal. I've been so worried, I sent my dog to friends in Pullman when those stock killings started a month or so ago. I was afraid he might get blamed for it, and nothing I could do to prove he's not a killer.
"A pack? No, that's silly. I don't have any dogs here at all right now, much less a pack. Just ask my neighbor, Robert Bell. If I had a pack of vicious dogs he'd be the first to know about it. He runs a dairy, and there are calves around there all the time.
"You already have? Good. See what I mean?
"Yes, I know. Don't mention it. Is there anything else I can help you with? I really do want to get this resolved so I can bring my own dog back. I don't have a man here most of the time andwell, you know how it is. I just don't feel safe out here by myself without any protection.
"Oh, come now! Did he really say that? I hate to sound disrespectful, but that's not the sort of thing I'd expect to hear from a County Sheriff! We may be rural out here, but we're at least moderately civilized. Magic is for children, not police officers.
"Yes, that's what I think too. In a way I'm sorry for himbut he's caused me so much distressall I really want is for him to go away, or at least leave me alone.
"Press charges? Of course not! Like a lot of people out here, I'm a bit of a hermit. I try not to bother my neighbors, and hope they won't bother me. It sounds like you have the situation well under control. I'll testify if I have to, but please don't call me in unless you really need me.
"Good! I'm so glad to hear that! I can't tell you how much of a relief it is. I think I'll probably bring Sin-Ka-Lip back this weekend.
"Okay. And please let me know if I can be of any further help. Bye."
Mooney put the phone down, and turned to us exultantly. "Sheriff Pickworth has been suspended! I'm not the only one he's been treating like dirt, and it looks like his bosses are trying to get rid of him. That car accident last night was just what they needed, but he's making it even easier. He's claiming the car was destroyed by magic, and I'm responsible. He says I'm a witch, and I have several familiars who help me, and other humans as well. You're one of them, John, and also Dr. Benton. He thinks Mouse has been badly corrupted, but might be saved if she's removed from my influence right away. What do you think, Mouse? Is it too late for you?"
"You bet!" she laughed. "I like your familiars too!" She was holding Fox in her lap at that moment, stroking him like a cat. He seemed to be enjoying it. The Spirit Pups were not with us.
"Okay, but never say you weren't warned! I'm such a bad influencejust like old times. Eh, John?"
John put on his pompous tone for her. "I wasn't with you in the 'old times', but I can believe you were as bad an influence then as you are presently. Coyote chose well when he called you to him. So guide him now. What will be the next step on his path?"
"Oh, stop it, John! You know I don't have a clue. That man told me the hunt is definitely over, anyway. It's been a great embarrassment to the departmentall that fuss and expense, and the culprit was finally shot by a farmer! Oh, by the way, I keep forgetting to ask. Was that you, Peter?"
Mr. Burrey nodded his head, "K-yess. Waas mee. Ssorrr-ee." A simple nod would have done the trick, but I guess he wanted to practice his talking. His skill was developing rapidly now that he was a wolf full-time.
Mr. Burrey opened his mouth to speak again. "Kk-y-ot ssk-ool nnoww. Goo-da ti-i-ma. Mm-onday."
"Monday? The day after tomorrow? I don't think we're ready for that yet. I wanted to write some threatening letters to the Board, then get together a rally with newspaper reporters and everything. Then we can really nail 'em!"
"Nn-o. Nno fi-i-ght. Ffet-terr ee-see wway firrs-ta. Go ssk-ool Mm-onday. Nno ffuss."
"Do you really think so? That would put quite a burden on Stinky and Mouse. They'd have to defy the authorities but without goading them too much, and without much support from the rest of us."
"Goo-da trry. Lless thrr-eta. Lless aann-gerr. Go aa-lone."
"Okay. You're the one with the psychology degree. If Mouse and Sin-Ka-Lip are willing, we'll do it your way. What do you think, kids?"
Wonderful. Just my favorite thing to do. March up to a pack of hostile humans and pretend to be nice. Even harder for Mouse! Still
that was nothing compared with fighting demons
"Yes, Mooney. I won't pffite or growl no matter what. Mouse has the hard pffart, anyway. Can you do it, Soft-Heart?"
Since the Neulebskar incident I had been using that nickname for her sometimes. She didn't seem to mind.
"I can do anything!" she answered fiercely. "There's nothing can scare me more than I've been scared already. I won't let it!"
Her answer pleased and surprised us all, although I couldn't help but feel it was a little grandiose. There are some things that will always be able to 'scare' me. Or worse. And Mouse too, I doubt not.
I didn't express those opinions, of course. That would have been a put-down of the worst sort. We had both come so far in the last yearmaybe we could do this, too.
"Okay, then it's settled," Mooney proclaimed decisively. "I'll take you both to school just like we used to, and we'll see what happens. We can brush out Stinky's fur and put on a new bandana so he looks as silly and innocent as possible, and he can work on his tail wagging and panting. You can do it, Snookums! Just pretend you're a Labrador!"
Yeah, right. "Fox, are you sure this was really all my idea? Pffefore I made myself forget apffout it? I must have pffeen crazy!"
"Yes, Coyote. You've always been crazy. It's a tough job, but someone's got to do it. The extra benefits are nice, though." He slithered around in Mouse's lap so her hand would be stroking his milk-pale belly fur. It's very convenient to be soft and small and cute. I was jealous.
= chapter 27 =
Sunday was dedicated to more resting and socialization, and then it was Monday. John was gone, and we were on the road to school. Time to assert ourselves. It was a rather new feeling for me, actually. Most everything before had been reactiondanger came to me and I tried to get out any way I could. Usually with help. This was something we didn't have to do. If I told Mooney and Mouse I had lost my nerve, we would just turn around and drive home. I could hang out with Lazytail and Smokey and the Pups, and Mr. Burrey and Princess too. I'd be so busy keeping them out of trouble, I wouldn't care about school any more. Fox was keeping an eye on them now.
"Mooney, what are we going to do with all of ourselves? Smokey doesn't have any sense at all apffout what is really dangerous and what is just scary, and Lazytail wasn't any pffetter, pffefore Wolf joined with her. And the Pffupffs are always looking for troupffle, and Pffrincess only knows how to pffe wild. How do we keepff track of them all?"
"Don't ask me! You're the one who brought them all home. Mostly against my wishes. And you're the one who got Lazytail pregnant, completely against my wishes! She'll double your problems in another couple of months. Much more than double, if OldCoyote is born alive! You should be damned grateful if they let you back in school again. That leaves all your problems for me to handle, if I can. I think I'll save all the bad ones for you. 'Just wait till your father gets home', I'll tell them. You need to savor your new role, after all."
Comforting words! Maybe it was time to change the subject. "I was kind of pffusy on Friday. Did you hear anything new from the timpffer survey compffany? John told me you were really worried apffout how to get things started, since you don't have two pffennies to rupff together."
"John said that, did he? How tactful of him! Well, you'll both be pleased to know that I did get a call from them on Friday. They said they had some very interesting news to tell me and wanted me to come over right away, but I said that was impossible, it would have to wait until Monday. I'll be going there this morning if our plan for you and Mouse is successful."
Our plan was successful. Ridiculously easy, in fact. My absence had given every student and teacher plenty of time to come to a decision, and Mouse's distress and poor performance without me had made that decision easy for anyone with a heart and a brain. In the end there was no contest at all. Only Mrs. Stanford resisted. And Mr. Hubert.
We were standing in line when Mrs. Stanford arrived to lead away her class. Admirers surrounded us, petting me and welcoming us both, but Mouse and I stood at attention, faultlessly disciplined except that Mouse had her hand on my neck instead of the harness grip. Mooney was far away, watching from the parking lot and trying to look inconspicuous.
"Children! Get away from that creature! It's not supposed to be here! Mousewhat in the world are you doing? This is a dangerous animal, and it has been specifically forbidden to come onto the school grounds! Remove it immediately!"
Mouse and I cowered for a moment, then forced ourselves to stand up straight. Mouse swallowed several times, then spoke in a hesitant, cracking voice, "I'm sorry, Mrs. Stanford, but I can't send him away. I need him here. I can't do it all without him. I just can't!" Her voice changed from cracking to crying at the end of that, but she stood firm. She stank of fear, but she held firm.
I could tell even Mrs. Stanford was moved, but she hardened herself. "I'm sorry, Mouserules are rules, and I can't allow you into my classroom this way. You have to understand."
Mouse braced herself to argue further, but she didn't have to. Mrs. Seeley just happened to be standing close by, and spoke on our behalf. "I'll take them. Mouse and Coyote can help me with Kindergarten story time, and then we can try out a new math tutorial package I just received. They'll be no trouble at all."
"I'll thank you to mind your own business, Mrs. Seeley. Mouse is my responsibility in the mornings!"
"Not if you won't let her in your classroom! Come on this way, you two. I need to get you settled in before the others arrive." Mrs. Seeley turned on her heel and began to walk briskly toward the main building and her own room. She didn't look back, so she didn't see Mrs. Stanford standing there with her mouth open like a fish mouth. I saw, and so did every single kid standing there. I had never heard them so silent! Mouse still had her hand on my back, so I got us into motion right away. We left Mrs. Stanford behind without a word.
We had a visit from the principal during story time, as Mrs. Seeley no doubt knew we would. She had stationed me within a cluster of exceedingly small humans, and two of them were actually sitting on me. They all petted and poked and tickled, and I wasn't quite sure how I felt about such liberties, but I knew my assigned role: Tail moving, tongue moving, ears upkiss those babies 'til they giggle! That's what Mr. Sawyer found when he entered the room.
Mr. Sawyer didn't speak when he came inmerely leaned against the back wall and observed until the period was over and the kids were sent back to their regular room. He didn't say a word to spoil the story. It was a legend about how Coyote killed a monster that had swallowed everyone (Animal People) in the world, and how he cut the belly open to free the Animal People, then cut the carcass into pieces and used those pieces to create the People (Human Beings). It was a version I had not heard before and I listened carefully, wondering which parts were true.
Mr. Sawyer hadn't come to learn about the Coyote of legend, though. He was there to talk about me. "Mrs. Stanford is very upset with you," he told Mrs. Seeley. "She says you flouted the Schedule Plan, and undermined her authority in front of the entire student body. She also says you undermined my authority by letting this animal come onto the school grounds after I said it could not be allowed here. This is not the sort of behavior I would expect from either of you. Is it true?"
What a silly thing to say. Of course it was true! He was looking straight at me as he said it. Still, he didn't really smell that hostile. I took a chance and approached him obsequiously, licking his hands and trying to be friends. He responded favorably, getting down on his knees and rubbing my ears with both hands.
"Oh, don't bother to explain yourself, Jeanette. I know what's going on, and I support you on it. The School Board had no right to make me get rid of Coyote against my judgment like that, and I've had plenty of time to see the results of that action. I will not make the same mistake again. Coyote stays, even if they fire me for it. The School Board can hire and fire me, but while I'm here I'm in charge, and I will not compromise myself further.
"Excuse me, Mouse. Normally I don't discuss subjects like this in front of students, but this seems like a special case. I know Ms. Sklarsen has been working to get a rally together, and I don't want to be on opposite sides from her. Perhaps you can be our mediator?"
"Yes, Mr. Sawyer. I'll tell her everything you said. I know there won't be any problem. All we want is for me to be able to use my Guide Dog like anyone else who needs one."
"Yes, I know. I can't believe I went along with them as far as I did. We'll have an emergency staff meeting about it today during lunch period."
Mouse and I heard the whole meeting. It took place in the break room right next door. Mouse had brought a lunch for us, and Mrs. Seeley let us stay in her room to eat it. With my official status still in question, that solved a lot of problems.
The details are not important. They bored me even then, except for the part where Mr. Hubert spoke. Mr. Hubert was the only School Board member attending. It was an emergency meeting, after all. Rather surprising that even he was able to make it, but his opinions were not surprising. He was pissed.
Mr. Hubert berated the principal right there in front of his teachers, which is not a smart thing to do to someone who is well liked. Voices rose in Mr. Sawyer's defense, and it became hard for me to sort out who was saying what. I did hear Mr. Hubert mention something about immediate termination, and then I distinctly heard Mrs. Seeley say the teachers would be compelled to strike, in that event. Others took up the word, and it had a remarkable effect. Basically it ended the argument. Mouse was placed under Mrs. Seeley's supervision for both morning and afternoon sessions, and it was determined that I was not really a vicious
dog. I was a Guide Dog again. Breed undetermined. How very kind of them.
Mooney had some interesting news for us when she picked us up from school. We had news too, of course, and we told ours first.
"That's delightful!" she chortled, "I knew things were going well when Mrs. Seeley took you in, but I never expected such a warm welcome. They actually threatened to go on strike for you! Of course, it was not so much concern for you and Mouse as it was rebellion against being bossed around so flagrantly. Still, I guess the system really works, sometimes. I'd mind my behavior, though.
"Now for my news. It's from the survey company, of course. Something I never would have considered. It appears that Weyerhæuser has been illegally logging part of our land for the last seventy years or so. A major survey irregularity occurred back then, and it's only just been uncovered. You might have noticed it yourself, Stinky, if you thought more like a human. Or a lawyer."
"Go on, Mooneywe're waiting. Don't draw it out."
"Aw, you're no fun! Won't you take a guess?"
"No. And Mouse won't either. Isn't that right, Mouse? If you and the other humans took seventy years to figure it out, I certainly won't pffe apffle to in a few minutes! Sowhat is this survey error, and what does it mean?"
"It's simple, really. The wording of the original land grant defined our property as the entire drainage of Fry Creek. That's easy to write, and they did it that way a lot in the old days. The problem comes when you want to be more specific. Surveyors come in to establish the boundaries exactly, and they place permanent markers along the way. The survey crew which marked our western boundary was either lazy or in a hurry, and they made a lot of curved lines into straight lines, because straight lines are so much easier.
"The end result was that a sizable chunk of our land was cut by the old Twin Harbors Logging Company, which was later bought out by Weyerhæuser. That land is on about its third growth now, and neither Grandpa nor I have ever received a penny. Now that we know about it, we don't have to log anything ourselves. All we have to do is sue Weyerhæuser! Won't even have to sue them, most likely. With a case like this they should settle out of court. That would save everybody a lot of fuss, and prevent any bad publicity for them. If they cooperate, we could be through with it all in a few weeks!"
Humans! I don't know why I hang out with them.
= epilogue =
Weyerhæuser paid off all of Mooney's back taxes and penalties, and promised us an adequate yearly lease payment for continued use of the disputed landjust enough to pay future taxes on the main parcel. The Weyerhæuser attorney explained to Mooney that her case was not all that strong, really, but he had been directed not to give her a hard time if she let Weyerhæuser take part of the credit for her conservation accomplishments. Mooney complied without protest. Weyerhæuser is not such a bad neighbor, and they do care a lot for their trees, in a corporate sort of way.
The Papillios have found themselves a new place to live. They're caretakers at a horse ranch, and get free rent and horse boarding in exchange for light duties. Most of their animals have been adopted by the vet school, and they say things are a lot easier for them now. They lost their security deposit, though. Their old house is in a shocking statecollapsing from its own weight and completely uninhabitable. It's not valuable enough to be worth repairing, so no one will ever live there again. Just another abandoned Palouse farmhouse. Haunted, too.
Lazytail is getting very big around the middle, and she'll be whelping soon. We both know she'll be delivering her pups in the house, but we've been digging a den anyway. It's a lot of fun, and Princess helps too. She's the one who showed us how to choose a site where groundwater doesn't seep in.
Lazytail decided she liked being able to talk, and she's been practicing simple words, just like Princess does. I think Smokey may take it up too, one of these days. He certainly listens carefully. And no, I don't know why they can learn to talk while others can't. I suppose it's some sort of influence I have on them. Or maybe that DNA virus John used on me is contagious. I don't know much about these things, and John doesn't know as much as he pretends. "That virus never acted quite right after Fox messed with it," he tells me. Fox says don't blame himbefore their project together, he never even knew what a virus was, or DNA, either. His kind has quite different ideas about how physical bodies are made.
John and Dr. Benton have done quite a few tests on us and found nothing unusual. No virus, no unusual DNA patternseven Mr. Burrey has just the normal seventy-eight chromosomes one would expect in a wolf, coyote, or dog. He's wolf through and through, not just some human monster with fur and teeth.
Mr. Burrey's wounds are all healed, and he's fine except for his bad haircut, which is already half shed out. The rest of us are starting to shed too. Quite a mess, and itchy, but soon over with. Mr. Burrey talks all the time, and helps Mooney with the chores, and keeps track of the others when I'm at school. I don't know what we'd do without him. Mooney uses his van now, too. It's not a Volkswagen, but it's newer and it runs much better. Mr. Burrey says she's welcome to it, and all his money as well, if she wants it. He says he wishes he could give her more, but he lost most everything when Wynoochee took his house, and there was no flood insurance. He got a nice income tax refund, though. He helped Mooney forge his signature on the check, and it was just enough to pay off his credit cards. The van was already paid for. He had Mooney notify the school district he needed more personal leave, and might not be able to go back to work at all. They said he should apply for disability, and so sorry, but they would have to hire a new person for his position. No hard feelings.
Fox became bored after a few days with us. He's gone now, and he never said a word about the Pups and me breaking so many of his rules. Expected it, I suppose. The Spirit Pups are gone tooor rather they've gone back inside me for a rest. That's what they said, but I think they were bored too. No problem with that! Boring is just fine, as far as I'm concerned. I think I like boring. It's safe.
Mouse let herself recover from her amnesia, which triggered quite a bureaucratic fuss. A very nice FBI man came and took fingerprints, photographs, and notes, in that order. Mouse had to go to court several times, but she says they didn't treat her badly. Eventually she received several boxes of personal items and another box full of court documents. She has a name and a Social Security number now, but we all still call her Mouse, and she still lives with us. She has no relatives who care about her.
Some of her toys and other things are damaged, because there was a terrible fight in her apartment after she left it. The man who yelled at her on the fire escape had frightened the neighbors, and one of them called the police. The men were too stupid or drugged to surrender, and both died there. Mouse's fear had been for nothing. She had run away from nothing.
When the boxes first arrived Mouse took out all her things, and her mother's things. She laid them out and stroked or held each one of them, then put them carefully away. She hasn't touched them since. Not even her old toys. She says she doesn't need them any moreshe has me. In the daytime, anyway. At night I belong to Lazytail. The hard part is finding time enough to sleep.
I can't say things have returned to normal. I'm not quite sure what normal is. Still, my belly is fullour bellies are fulland around me I see no danger or active enemies. What more could a coyote wish for?
We will see.