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Authors: W. Bruce Cameron

Ellie's Story (6 page)

BOOK: Ellie's Story
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But Jakob didn't move, and he kept on talking.

“I'm on K-9 patrol right now, search and rescue. I've got a dog. Her name is Ellie, a one-year-old German shepherd.”

I wagged my tail.

“You'd like her, honey. I wish you could have met her. She's a good dog; she really is.”

I wagged harder, but Jakob didn't seem to notice me, even though he'd said my name and, “Good dog.”

“We just got certified, so we'll be going out, now. I'll be glad to get off the desk. I've gained about ten pounds from all the sitting.” Jakob laughed, and the sound of it was so peculiar that it nearly made me whimper. It was such a sad, tortured little laugh, with no happiness in it at all.

We stayed there, hardly moving at all, for about ten minutes. Jakob seemed like one of the pieces of stone sticking up out of the ground, hard and cold and motionless. Slowly, the feeling I could sense in him shifted. It was less raw pain and more of a feeling sort of like fear.

“I love you,” Jakob whispered. Then he got up and walked away. I followed closely at his heels.



From that day forward, we spent more time away from the kennel. There were a lot of people out there who needed to be Found. Sometimes they were adults and sometimes children. Sometimes they were scared. Sometimes they were confused or, like Marilyn, not really aware that they were lost. But most were happy to see us.

Sometimes we would ride on airplanes or helicopters. “You're a chopper dog, Ellie!” Jakob always told me when we took off. The first time the noise made me nervous, but after that I understood that airplanes and helicopters were something like the truck—they got us to where Work needed to be done. The humming that I could hear and even feel through the metal floor started to make me drowsy after a time or two, and I'd usually doze off. When I woke up, Jakob and I would go to Work.

One day Jakob took me in the truck to the biggest pond I'd ever seen. There were a lot of people there, but a man and a woman ran toward the truck when we pulled up, talking frantically before Jakob even let me out of the cage. The woman pulled a limp purple sweatshirt from a big bag over her shoulder, and Jakob held it down for me to smell.

“Can your dog really…,” the woman began, sounding like she was about to cry. “I mean, we're not even sure how long it's been. I thought for sure Charlotte was playing with a few other kids down by the water, and then when I looked up she wasn't there. They didn't even remember seeing her leave.” Now the woman was crying for real and the man put an arm around her.

“Ellie's very good,” Jakob said calmly. “We just need to let her do her job. Find, Ellie!”

I sniffed the sweatshirt deeply. Sunscreen … salt … ketchup … a smudge of ice cream … strawberry-smelling shampoo … and little girl. Now I knew who I was searching for.

I put my nose down to the sand. It smelled … different. I'd tracked people across grass, dirt, sidewalks, and roads. But this was something new. Everything smelled damp and salty, and there was a strong, wet, powerful scent of seaweed in the air, threatening to swallow up the fragile smell of little girl.

And there were crisscrossing smells of people everywhere. They had been walking all over this sand, coming in and out of the water. I smelled rubber shoes and bare skin and food. So much food! Someone was grilling hot dogs. Jakob sometimes cooked those on the stove and let me have a taste. So delicious! It was hard to resist the temptation to lift my head up and take in a big breath of that lovely smell, but I kept my head down. I was Working.

I paced back and forth, making my way down toward the water. It was very strange water. The smell of salt from it was strong. I'd thought that the fountain Jakob had jumped into was big, but this—it was huge, and it
It growled, too, as though it were angry. I would rather have stayed far away from it, but the girl's trail was leading right toward it. I had to follow.

Then the water, to my surprise, swept up close to my paws! I'd been following the trail right across the sand, and all of a sudden the water rolled up to me and then back. The smell had been washed away. I jumped back in surprise.

“It's okay, Ellie,” Jakob said. He'd followed close behind me. “Find.”

That wasn't fair, the water coming up to wash the smell away! Irritated, I set to Work harder. The trail must be somewhere. I found it again in less than a minute. The little girl had been wandering close to the water's edge. The water kept moving, trying to trick me, but every time I lost the trail I found it again. My nose stayed right down near the sand.

“Doggy! Doggy!” a high voice said, and little hands were patting me. A tiny boy grabbed at my fur and giggled. His hands were sticky with salty water and drips from a Popsicle, and ordinarily I would have licked them clean.

“Will he bite?” asked a woman nervously.

“She won't bite, but she's working,” Jakob said from behind me. “Could you please—”

But I could already tell this wasn't the child I was supposed to Find. So I gently walked around him and kept going, moving quicker and quicker. Jakob was falling behind.

Something round landed in the sand beside me, and I looked up, startled. “Fetch!” a teenage boy yelled. I nosed at the thing. It was hard and plastic and looked like it might be nice to chew, but it wasn't Work. I kept going.

The girl's smell left the water. I followed it up the sloping sand and felt it growing stronger. I looked up to see a playground with more young humans than I had ever seen running wildly around. They slid down slides and climbed up ladders, just as I had learned to do. But they didn't seem to treat it as seriously as Work should be treated. They were playing, and making a lot of noise doing it.

The tracks of so many children crossed and crisscrossed the sand, and the smell I was following was buried. I paced back and forth, turning in a half circle. Where had it gone? I lifted my nose and tried the air. She was close; she must be close. I'd find the smell again if I just didn't give up.

And I did! There she was, sitting on a seesaw with a little boy at the other end. She flew up in the air, giggling, and then thumped down in the sand. I turned back to Jakob. “Show me!” he said, looking at my face.

I dashed across the playground. “Dog!” “Doggy!” “Can I pet your dog!” children called out as I ran. The girl thumped down in the sand, bouncing on her seat, as I came up to her.

Jakob followed me. “Charlotte?” he said. “Are you Charlotte?”

“Uh-huh.” The little girl looked up and laughed. “I want to play at the playground!” she shouted happily. “I want to stay!”

When Charlotte was back with her parents (her mother cried some more and Charlotte cried when her parents said she had to leave the playground and go home), Jakob snapped my leash on and scratched behind my ears. “Want to play in the ocean, Ellie?” he asked.

He took me down to the water. It kept sneaking up and trying to get me wet. I jumped back and barked, and once I tried to bite the bubbly white water that swirled over my paws. Jakob actually chuckled a little. It was a happier sound than I had ever heard from him before.

He found a stick and tossed it in the shallow water. Cautiously, I waded out to get it. The water sloshed around my feet and brushed against the fur on my belly, but it wasn't as bad as I'd thought it would be. I felt anxious, though, worried Jakob might go out in the water and sink in it. The thought was frightening. I snatched the stick up, tasted salt and wood, and raced back to Jakob, splashing all the way.

For once, there was a real smile on his face. “This is the ocean, Ellie. The ocean!” he told me, and threw more sticks until I was running in without any hesitation to get them, dashing in and out of the waves, wet from nose to tail. I was happy. Jakob was not going to sink—he remained safely on the shore, grinning. I felt that thing that had such a tight clench on Jakob's heart loosen, just a little, as we played.



Gypsy was not at the kennel the next day, but Cammie was. I tried to get him interested in a glorious game of I've Got the Ball and You Don't, but he just lay with his head on his paws, watching me tolerantly.

Then Jakob came out into the yard. “Ellie!” he called.

I'd never heard such urgency in his voice. I dropped the ball at once and ran to the gate so that he could let me out. We were obviously going to Work, and Work sounded more important than ever.

Jakob hurried with me to the truck, and we drove. The tires made screeching sounds that I could hear above the wail of the siren when we turned the corners. I had to lie down flat, my claws digging into the floor of my cage, to keep from sliding around.

When the truck jerked to a stop, I could see people gathered in a parking lot. That wasn't unusual. People often came to watch Jakob and me Work. But these people were more worried than I'd ever seen. One of them, a woman, was so afraid she couldn't stand up, and two people were holding her. Anxiety was rippling off Jakob, so strong it made the fur on my back stand up.

Jakob left me in my cage and ran past me to talk to the people. I waited, whining a little, very softly. Something was wrong, very wrong. The only way to make it better was to go to Work right away.

We were in a parking lot next to a big building with glass doors. The frightened woman reached into a bag and took out a soft, floppy toy. It had long ears like a rabbit, and most of the fur had been rubbed off.

“We've got the mall locked down,” somebody said.

Jakob came to the door of my cage and opened it. He handed me the floppy rabbit to sniff. “Ellie, okay? Got it? I need you to Find, Ellie!”

Another little girl, like Charlotte. But different. She had her own smell, of course; all humans did. This one combined sweat and dirt and peanut butter and salt, soap that smelled like honey, cookie crumbs. I leaped out onto the hard black ground and tried to sort out all the smells around me.

The ground itself smelled bitter and somehow black, just like it looked. Many feet had crossed it. There was a foul-smelling puddle of oil and a sharp stink of gasoline. Someone had spilled a cup of coffee. I moved away from those smells, concentrating. I was looking for little girl.

I didn't notice that I'd moved out in front of a moving car until the driver hit the brakes with a squeal. “Hey, what the—,” I heard an angry voice say.

Behind me, Jakob held up something in his hand. “Police dog!” he said sharply. “Back your vehicle up!”

“Okay, sorry,” the driver mumbled.

But I wasn't paying attention to that. The car wasn't important. I'd found the track of the girl who'd held the soft rabbit. But her scent was mixed with another, unfamiliar one. Strong … adult … male. I tracked them both, moving quickly, sure of myself.

“She's got it!” I heard Jakob call.

Then the smell vanished right where a car sat in the parking lot. The two people I'd been following had gone. They must have driven away in a different car, and then this one had pulled in to take its place.

I turned back to Show Jakob. But he wasn't happy, I could tell. Frustration and disappointment rose off him like a cloud. I cringed a little. Hadn't I done the Work right? He'd always been happy before.

“Okay, good girl, Ellie, good dog.” He pulled a rubber ring out of his pocket. But he played with me for only a minute or two, and I could tell that he was thinking about something else.

Jakob had called me a good dog, but I didn't feel like one. He wasn't happy. The Work wasn't right. Or maybe it wasn't done.

“We've tracked her to here,” Jakob told a man in a suit. “It looks like she got into a vehicle and left. Do we have surveillance on the parking lot?”

“We're checking now. If it is who we think it is, though, the car's stolen,” the man answered.

“Where would he take her? If it's him, where would he go?” Jakob asked.

The man in the suit turned his head, squinting at the green hills we could see in the distance. “Topanga Canyon. Or Will Rogers State Park.”

“We'll head up that way,” Jakob said. “See if we can pick up anything.”

I was startled when Jakob put me in the front seat of the truck. He'd never let me be a front-seat dog before! But he wasn't doing it because he was in a good mood; I could tell. He was still tense, so I stayed focused as he started up the car. We passed by another car with two terriers in the backseat of a station wagon, and they yipped at me out of pure jealousy, because I was in the front seat and they weren't. I ignored them.

Jakob and I drove out of the parking lot, and he held the soft stuffed rabbit out to me. I sniffed it obediently, but I was confused. Hadn't I already done this? Didn't I do it right?

“Okay, girl,” Jakob said. “I know this is going to sound strange, but I want you to Find.”

BOOK: Ellie's Story
3.3Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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