Tom saw the smirk approaching. There was no way to avoid it. Worse still, it was spread across the face of Conor. If ever a snigger or sneer needed removing with the back of a hand, it would belong to Conor Woods, one of The Guys. Tom had been creeping out early. He used the back lane to the woods alongside high conifer hedges, hoping to avoid The Guys.
Conor pulled on his Afghan hound’s leash, while allowing the dog’s nose close enough for a humiliating sniff.
“Does it squeak, Tom?”
Tom snorted and rolled a fist around his own leash.
“Hell, Tom, Rocky doesn’t know whether to sniff it or eat it.”
Second snort from Tom. Walking a tiny Chihuahua was Tom’s worse nightmare, topped only by meeting his main rival at the annual Elvis Hound Dog Festival. Tom’s 120 lb. Bloodhound had standing in the community. Duke had won top dog for two years. The townsfolk showered him with affection, and he loved it. Not as much as Tom though, who diverted the admiration to himself.
“Why do I have to walk it?” Tom snapped at Mary.
“Because it was your brute of a dog that tripped me up.”
“Well, it’s not like Duke’s too small to see.”
“That dog,” she said, “I’m sure you care more for him than me.”
Tom didn’t dare respond.
Mary was told to rest her sprained ankle. Weeks of walking a two-pound rat on a string, ran through Tom’s head. That’s not gonna happen. After a week of taking Bobo for walkies, and cringingly responding to questions from The Guys about the little doggy’s name, it drove Tom to the edge. So when providence provided a solution, he grabbed it.
In the park, he met a woman from out of town. She was walking a dog for a holidaying friend, and was drawn to Bobo as her own Chihuahua had recently died. Tom told the woman that Mary was too ill to look after the dog and desperate to find a good home for her. An equal believer in fate, she was overjoyed to come to his aid.
“I informed the police,” he told Mary. “Apparently, there’s been a spate of animal thefts lately. I tied her to a post while I went into the store. When I came out she was gone.”
A rehearsed furrowed brow and a brief tremor from fear of her reaction convinced Mary his story was true. She cried for a week, then, following a phone call from her sister, her sadness waned.
Convinced Mary had swallowed his story, Tom strutted out daily with his man’s dog, seeking out The Guys with their hounds, to taunt them about Duke winning again at the upcoming Festival. What he didn’t know was that fate had worked against him. For Mary’s sister Lily had taken a job at her local veterinary surgery, where a woman had taken in a Chihuahua to see if it had been microchipped. Checking the register, and hearing how the woman had acquired the dog, Lily was straight on the phone to Mary.
Mary contacted the woman, who agreed Tom’s action was despicable. She offered to return Bobo right away. However, Mary asked if she would hold on to the dog while she plotted her revenge.
For the next fortnight Tom groomed Duke, fed him best cuts of meat, and ensured regular exercise kept him in peak condition. Meanwhile, Mary had recovered enough to walk again. She begged Tom to let her lead Duke out onto the stage at the Festival. At first he wouldn’t hear of it, but she pretended she had grown fond of Duke, and as he had lost her dog, it was the least he could do. Reluctantly, he agreed that on the day Mary would give Duke a final grooming backstage while he sat proudly amongst the townsfolk.
At the Hound Dog Festival, Tom positioned himself in the middle of the crowd. He elbowed neighbours and laughed when rivals paraded their dogs, and made a point of booing when Conor Woods led out his hound, Rocky.
Being the previous winner, Tom insisted Duke be brought out last for major impact. When all but Duke had crossed the stage, Tom started chanting, “Duke, Duke, Duke,” encouraging those around him to join in. The crowd looked over as he puffed out his chest with pride. Then it happened.
Elvis’ “Hound Dog” blared out around the arena. From the wings, Mary appeared with a leash in her hand, and out strolled Duke. He sported a pink silk dress around his body, trimmed with white lace. Over his paws he wore pink frilly socks. And secured with a ribbon under his head was a cute white bonnet. On his hindquarters was a harness that pulled a small wheeled cart decorated with multi-coloured paper flowers. And sitting sedately on a velvet red cushion with scarlet ribbons behind her ears sat Bobo, staring wide-eyed.
The crowd roared with laughter as Mary paraded Duke along the stage. The Guys stood on their seats, pointing at Tom, and yelling hysterically, “Duke, Duke, Duke.” Tom’s face matched Bobo’s ribbons. He growled like his hound and fled the field with the crowd’s laughter buzzing in his head.
Tom no longer enters Duke into the Elvis Hound Dog Festival. He still takes him out for exercise, but likes to make it early before The Guys are up. Mary, however, smiles proudly when walking Bobo. Many of the townsfolk remember the eventful day and the newspaper pictures. People have grown quite fond of Mary’s dog. The festival organiser has even asked if Bobo could act as a mascot to lead out the manly hounds at next year’s Festival.
Dan Keeble hails from the furthest point East in the UK, and has enjoyed many successes with online and print publications of poetry, short stories, humour, and more serious articles.