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Authors: W. Bruce Cameron

Ellie's Story (5 page)

BOOK: Ellie's Story
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It seemed to be. “Show me!” he said as soon as I reached him. And, “Good dog!” when I brought him to the girl. “Good dog, Ellie!”

“What are you doing?” asked the girl, putting her book down on her lap and staring at us.

“She's a search-and-rescue dog,” Jakob explained. “She's training to find people.”

The girl smiled widely. “And she found me?”

“That she did.” Jakob found a stick for me and we played around the little clearing. The girl didn't seem to know that it was her job to play tug-on-a-stick. (Wally always knew.) But I didn't care too much, so long as someone was willing to pull and wrestle with me.

Maybe the girl wasn't all that bright, but she was still nice. She laughed and put out her hand when I came near, and I hoped she might have some cream cheese to share. She didn't have any, but she scratched behind my ears. That was nice, too.

I didn't like the next person I Found quite as much. He was crouched in a bush with a pair of big, strange-looking glasses held to his eyes, and he smelled sour, as if he hadn't had a good bath in a while. Someone needed to spray him with a hose.

“Shoo!” he hissed at me when I Found him the first time, and when I brought Jakob to him he stood up and frowned as Jakob called me a good dog and let me tug him all around the bush with my stick.

“Do you mind playing with your dog somewhere else?” the man asked grumpily. “You've scared off a scarlet tanager!”

“Sorry, sir,” Jakob said. I didn't know what was being said, but the man seemed unhappy and Jakob didn't seem too concerned about it.

We Found a lot of people in the days after that. Some were glad to see us; some were not. But Jakob always told me I was a good dog, no matter how the person I Found acted. This was what Work meant, I decided. I was supposed to Find people and take Jakob to them, so that he could decide whether they were the right people or not. That was his job. Finding them was mine.

I had been with Jakob about a year when he started taking me to a new place to Work. This place had a lot of people in it, most of them dressed like Jakob. They were friendly and called me by name, but they drew back respectfully when Jakob told me to Heel.

There were also some other dogs in this Work place. Jakob took me out back to a fenced-in pen. “Here's your kennel, girl,” he said. Two other dogs were inside already, Cammie and Gypsy. Cammie was jet-black and Gypsy was brown.

I stood still and let them sniff me all over when Jakob opened the door and let me inside. Then it was my turn to sniff them. They smelled all right. Gypsy was about my age; Cammie was older. After he'd inspected me, Cammie settled down on the ground with a sigh, as if he didn't find a new dog all that interesting.

Gypsy, though, had a fuzzy green ball in her mouth. She put it on the ground and let it roll a few inches away. Then she snatched it up again. She looked at me.

A ball. A ball was something I could play with. Why should Gypsy have the ball and not me?

I didn't let on how much I'd like to have a ball, too. But the next time Gypsy allowed the ball to roll away, I pounced. She raced me to it, but she wasn't fast enough. I had it now! Gypsy chased me all around the kennel, and Cammie groaned a little when we tore right past his nose. Then I let Gypsy have the ball again and it was her turn to chase me.

But when Jakob came out into the yard, I quickly dropped the ball and went to sit by the fence to watch him. Gypsy snatched the ball up, but she came over, too. Even Cammie sat up, and his ears were alert.

Was it time to Work?

It didn't seem to be. Jakob just looked at me and nodded. “Getting on all right?” he asked, and then he scratched my ears through the wire fence before he left again.

That was how it was, in the kennel. When Gypsy and I had time, we played while Cammie watched. But if a person walked into the yard, our games were over. We dashed to the fence, ready if the call to Work came.

Gypsy worked with a police officer named Paul, and they were gone a lot. But sometimes I saw them work in the yard. They did it all wrong! Gypsy just poked her nose in between boxes and into piles of clothing, even when it was obvious there wasn't a person hidden there. Worse, she'd alert Paul when she hadn't Found anyone! But he always called her a good dog anyway and pulled a little package out from wherever her nose had been pointed.

Cammie didn't bother to watch Gypsy. Probably he felt embarrassed for the poor dog. Cammie's person was named Amy, and they didn't go out much. When they did, though, they went fast. Amy would come and get Cammie and they'd leave at a run.

I didn't really understand what either of them was doing. But I knew it couldn't be as important as Find.

“Where you working this week?” Amy asked Paul once.

“Looking for drug smugglers out at the airport again, until Garcia comes off sick leave,” Paul told her. “How's life on the bomb squad?”

“Quiet. I'm worried about Cammie, though. His scores have been a little off. I'm wondering if his nose is going.”

At the sound of his name Cammie raised his head, and I looked over at him.

“He's, what, ten years old now?” Paul asked.

“About that,” Amy answered.

I stood up and shook myself because I could sense Jakob coming. A few seconds later he walked around the corner. He and the other officers stood and talked while we dogs watched them, wondering why they didn't let us out into the yard to be with them.

Suddenly I felt a surge of excitement off Jakob. He spoke to his shoulder, in that same funny way humans sometimes held up boxes near their faces and talked into them. “Ten-four. Unit Eight-Kilo-Six responding,” he said.

Amy ran over to our gate. Cammie jumped up, but Amy didn't call for him. She was looking at me. “Ellie!” Amy commanded. “Come!”

Jakob was running and I streaked past Amy, chasing him. In moments we were out of the yard and I was in the cage in the back of the truck. I found myself panting, picking up some of Jakob's excitement.

Something told me that whatever was happening, it was far more important than Find Wally.



Jakob drove us to a large, flat building. Several people were outside the front door, gathered into a circle. I could feel the tension in them as we pulled up. Jakob came around and petted me, but he left me in the truck. “Good dog, Ellie,” he said absently.

I sat and watched him anxiously as he went up to the group of people. What was he doing? Why was he walking away from me? Weren't we going to Work? I knew I was supposed to wait patiently for him to give me a command, but it was hard. I whined a little.

Several of the people near Jakob spoke at once.

“We didn't notice her missing until lunch, but we don't have any idea how long she's been gone.”

“Marilyn's an Alzheimer's patient. Sometimes she thinks she's back at her old house, or that she needs to go the job she used to have. She won't remember enough to find her way back.”

“I don't understand how she got away with no one seeing.”

While I sat there in the truck, a squirrel climbed down the trunk of a tree and scurried around, trying to dig up food in the grass. I stared at it, astounded. Didn't it realize that I was a vicious predator? And that I was only ten feet away?

Jakob came back to the cage and opened the door. “Heel!” he commanded, giving me no chance to teach the squirrel a lesson. It shot up a tree anyway and sat up there, chattering. I ignored it. Time to Work.

Jakob led me away from the people to a corner of the front yard. He held out two shirts that smelled of old sweat, of something sweet and flowery. I stuck my nose into the soft cloth, breathing in deeply. “Ellie, Find!”

It was just like the park. I knew exactly what to do, and I took off, running past the knot of people. “She wouldn't have gone that way,” someone said.

“Let Ellie work,” Jakob replied.

Work. I carried the sense memory of the clothing in my mind as I held my nose up to the air, moving back and forth to pick up the trail. A lot of people had walked across this yard. Dogs had been along the sidewalk. Cars had driven down the street. I could smell all of them, but none of those smells was the right smell. I couldn't Find.

Frustrated, I turned back to Jakob.

He could tell I was disappointed. “That's okay, Ellie. Find.” He began walking down the street, and I leaped ahead. There were more lawns; I dashed up and down each one. Somewhere that smell, the one right smell, would be hidden. I'd discover it.

I turned the corner and slowed down. There it was! It was faint, just a hint, but it got stronger as I moved in the right direction. It was tantalizing me, coming to me.…

I zeroed in on the right trail and the smell was powerful now. There was no doubt. I had Found it. Forty feet in front of me, at the base of a clump of bushes, there was a burst of the scent, perfectly clear. I turned and ran back to Jakob, who had been joined by several police officers.

“Show me, Ellie!” Jakob said at once.

I took him back to the bushes. He bent, poking at something with a stick.

“What is it?” one of the officers asked, coming up behind Jakob.

“A tissue. Good dog, Ellie, good dog!” He offered me the stick and we wrestled with it quickly, but I could sense that we weren't done here. There was more Work.

“How do we know that's hers? It could have been dropped by anybody,” one of the police officers objected.

Jakob ignored him. He bent down so his face was near mine. “Okay, Ellie. Find!”

I followed the trail as it led away from the tissue. It went about two blocks, then turned right, getting stronger. At a driveway it made another sharp right turn and took me through an open gate.

And there she was, sitting on a swing set, moving gently. Her small feet just brushed the ground. There was a real sense of happiness flowing from her, and she seemed glad to see me.

“Hello, doggy,” she said. Somehow her voice sounded far away, even though she was only a few feet from me.

I ran back to Jakob. His excitement surged the moment he saw me. He knew that I'd done my Work. I had Found her! But he waited until I reached him before he reacted. “Okay, Show me!” he urged.

I took him to the lady on the swing set, and I felt his relief the moment he stepped through the gate. “Are you Marilyn?” he asked gently.

She tipped her head to one side, looking at him. “Are you Warner?” she replied.

Jakob spoke into the microphone at his shoulder, and soon we were joined by the other police officers. Jakob took me into the front yard. “Good dog, Ellie!” he praised. He pulled a rubber ring out of his pocket and sent it bouncing across the lawn, and I jumped on it and brought it back, holding it out for him to grip and tug on. We played for about five minutes, my tail whipping the air the whole time.

Someone new arrived then and led Marilyn back up the street with an arm around her. We followed. I could feel the relief pouring off the people who came out to meet Marilyn, call out her name, and take her inside.

She'd been in some kind of danger, that faraway, gentle lady named Marilyn. I understood that now. By Finding her, Jakob and I had saved her.

As Jakob shut me in the cage in the back of the truck, I could feel the pride coming off him. “Good dog, Ellie. You are such a good dog.”

It wasn't the adoration I used to feel from Georgia, but it was as close as Jakob could come. That was the first moment I really understood my purpose: not just to Find people, but to save them.

That was what Jakob and I did together; that was our Work. And it was what he cared about most.

The next day, our Work was back to normal. Wally was hiding on top of a Dumpster full of all sorts of trash—some of it smelled delicious, some smelled awful, but I was still able to pick out the Wally smell. He couldn't fool me! When Work was done, Jakob stopped by a store and picked up some sweet-smelling flowers. To my surprise, we didn't head home.

Instead, we drove and drove and drove. It took so long that I got tired of holding my nose up to the wire mesh of my cage. Usually I loved the rush of smells that poured over me when I rode in the truck. It was hard to believe that, when I was just a puppy, I'd been frightened of it. I loved it now. The smells came and went so quickly that I couldn't tell them apart, but it felt wonderful just to let them wash over me.

But I got tired of that at last and lay down on the floor with my head on my paws, waiting for the trip to be over.

When Jakob came to let me out, there was a heaviness in him. Whatever was hurting him inside seemed stronger than ever. He even moved more slowly, as if his sadness were something heavy that he had to carry with every step.

I hopped down out of the truck. We were in a big yard filled with smooth stones that stuck up out of the soft grass.

Not sure what we were doing, I stayed close to Jakob as he walked away from the truck, carrying his flowers. Was this Work? I didn't think so. Jakob never felt this sad when we were doing Work.

Jakob stopped walking and knelt down. He put the flowers next to one of the stones. The pain inside him twisted so deeply that tears fell silently down his cheeks.

I nuzzled at his hand, worried about him. It wasn't right, for Jakob to cry like this. Something needed to be done about it.

“It's okay, Ellie. Good dog. Sit.”

I sat. Since I couldn't Find Jakob, or rescue him, or do anything to help him, I just stayed next to him, feeling sad with him.

He cleared his throat. “I miss you so much, honey. I just … sometimes I don't think I can get through the day knowing you're not going to be there when I get home,” he whispered hoarsely.

I lifted my ears at the word “home.”
I thought.
Let's go home. Let's leave this sad place.

BOOK: Ellie's Story
12.75Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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