Read Webster Online

Authors: Ellen Emerson White

Webster

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For Donna, who cared for the
real
Bad Hat for so long, before bringing him into my life, and for Estelle, who is very fond of Harold

CHAPTER ONE

T
he dog was way too cool to be scared. Or alarmed. Or even a tiny bit
nervous
.

But, apparently, when it came to being adopted, the third time
wasn't
the charm.

Did he care? Nope. Whatever was going to happen, was going to happen—even if it was bad. No big deal. He could handle it.

Probably.

He had been so happy when the big, noisy family adopted him—but, he probably should have known that it wasn't going to work out when the first two things they did were to slap a tight, metal-pronged choke collar around his neck, and then name him “Beast.”

It also maybe hadn't been a good sign that they left
him outside every single night, chained to a rusty metal fence. Even when it was cold, or raining—or
snowing
, he would be stuck out there by himself, trying not to shiver.

Today, one of the little girls in the family had snuck him into the kitchen, even though he was supposed to stay in the yard on his chain. She'd tried to dry off his fur with some paper towels, and then put a bowl of cereal on the floor for him to eat. Cornflakes and milk weren't exactly his favorites, but the dog was so hungry that he pretty much
inhaled
them.

Then, the father came into the room and tripped over him. He yelled, “Bad dog!” and kicked him as hard as he could in the ribs. The dog had tried to scramble out of the way—and the man kicked him again, even harder. There was a lot of yelling and commotion, the kids started crying—from the baby, all the way up to the thirteen-year-old boy.

At that point, the mother slammed a plate down on the counter so hard that it broke. “That's it, I can't take it anymore!” she shouted. “He goes
now
!”

The next thing the dog knew, the father stomped off to work, and the rest of the family got in the car. The kids were all still crying, and begging for another chance, and
promising to take better care of their Beast—but, the mother didn't seem to be listening.

They took him to an animal hospital first, to try to have him “put to sleep”—which were possibly the three worst words in the whole world. Luckily, the veterinarians had refused to do it, and the family ended up bringing him to a place called the Green Meadows Rescue Group, instead. It seemed to be a farm, and there was a big white house with freshly painted black shutters, and an old red barn, and lots of outdoor kennels and fields. A few people were carrying around hoses and buckets and that sort of thing, and a bunch of dogs were running in a big grassy area, enclosed by a tall wooden fence. He could smell lots of dogs and cats, along with some horses and geese and chickens, and what might be a goat, too.

The children were all still really upset, but the mean mother signed some papers, and handed him over to a lady named Joan, who was the owner of the shelter or something. And then, just like that, the family piled back into their car and drove away.
Left
him. Alone.

The dog watched anxiously until the car was gone. Maybe they would change their minds, and come back? Not that it had been a great home, but at least he had
had
a home. His throat felt tight, and he was having trouble swallowing. With luck, no one would be able to tell how afraid he was.

Because, okay, he
was
scared. Petrified, even.

Joan reached down to pat him. She had long brown hair pulled back into a thick ponytail, and was wearing hiking boots, jeans, and a green sweatshirt with the black silhouette of a running dog on the front of it. “It's okay, buddy,” she said, in a very kind voice. “You're going to be fine now.”

The dog had learned a long time ago not to trust people—and he wasn't about to start now. He could hear some barking out in the meadow, but it didn't sound frightened, or frantic. So maybe, as shelters went, this was a fairly nice one? Maybe he wouldn't be shivering on a wet, filthy cement floor for weeks on end this time? He hoped so, anyway.

A tall man with glasses and a lot of unruly blondish hair came out of the house, walking an arrogant little Yorkshire Terrier on a leash.

“What do we have here?” the man asked.

Joan sighed. “That family just gave him to us. Look at how thin the poor thing is.”

The man nodded. “It looks like he hasn't had a decent meal in
weeks
.”

Okay, the dog would admit that he was rather slim, but in a totally excellent
athletic
sort of way.

In the meantime, the Terrier gave him a cocky
You think you're tough?
I'm
tough!
look.

Which the dog chose to ignore.

“I run this joint,” the Terrier barked at him.

Oh, yeah, no doubt. “Move along, buddy,” the dog barked back. “Nothing to see here.”

The Terrier laughed. “You've got
that
right,” he said in a high yap.

The dog had walked into that one—so, he couldn't be offended by the insult.

Much.

The dog tugged experimentally on the leash, and felt the metal prongs bite into his neck. He
hated
this collar. If this Joan person took it off him soon, he might actually start to like her.

A little.

Maybe.


Touch
any of my toys, and I will vanquish you,” the Yorkshire Terrier muttered.

Yeah, right. “You and what munchkin-dog army, little man?” the dog asked.

“Okay, guys, calm down,” Joan said, with a laugh. “You don't need to bark at him, Jack.” Which was obviously the Terrier's name.

The Terrier gave the dog a long
do
not
underestimate me
blink—and the dog resisted the urge to step on him.

Joan was talking to the man, who seemed to be named Thomas, about taking him to the vet—
whoa!
—but then, another shelter worker came out of the house and told her that the vet, Dr. Kasanofsky, was going to drive over as soon as his office hours were finished and examine him right here, instead.

As far as the dog was concerned, that was strike one for life on the rescue farm.

Joan led him inside, where there was a small office near the front door. File cabinets, desks, computers, and other boring stuff. It looked like the area off to the right was a regular house, and that the newer wing on the left was for animals. When the dog had been in other shelters, there were stained concrete floors everywhere, dented metal dishes full of stale water, and lots of rusty chain link fencing. With luck, this place wasn't going to be as awful as those had been.

Not that he was planning to stay long. In fact, the first chance he got, he was going to escape. He was
done
with people. He would hit the open road soon enough, off to a new life of adventure, excitement, and, like,
hijinks
!

There seemed to be a couple of rooms set aside just for cats—not his favorite animals, so that was strike
two
—with lots of pillows on the floor, and carpeted climbing structures. Maybe the cats had their own cages, too, but he couldn't see any.

They passed a grooming and bathing room, what looked like a doctor's office, and a big kitchen. The kitchen smelled good, and he could see an older woman putting some large flat metal sheets into an oven.

“Do you have anything special for our new friend here, Monica?” Joan asked.

The older woman smiled. “Oh, isn't he a beauty! What's his name?”

She thought he was beautiful. Okay, in that case, despite his intense dislike of all human beings, the dog already kind of dug Monica.

And, you know, she was
right
. He was nothing if not devilishly handsome.

“His owners were calling him
Beast
,” Joan said.

“Oh, how awful. We'll have to come up with something better than that.” Monica reached into a wicker basket, which seemed to be full of freshly baked dog biscuits. “Here you go, pal,” she said, and held one out to the dog.

He could smell liver and garlic and many other pleasant things. And the biscuit was still slightly warm! His stomach hurt a lot, and he really didn't feel like eating, but he held the biscuit in his mouth, in case he changed his mind. He had never had a homemade biscuit before, and the concept sort of blew his mind, to be honest.

The dog area was a long corridor lined with small, indoor rooms, which were equipped with beds with canvas or fleece covers. The dog expected to be thrown into one of the kennels and ignored, but instead, Joan brought him into a room with low couches and thick rugs. There were balls and rawhide bones and Kong toys lying all over the floor, and he stared at them in confusion.

Although if he could figure out which ones belonged to the cocky Yorkshire Terrier, he would be tempted to chew each of them just enough to be annoying.

Joan unsnapped his leash, and the dog quickly looked around, to see if there was an easy escape route.
The two windows had screens, and he could probably leap through them—but, the openings were kind of narrow, and maybe he would bide his time.

At least until he found the energy to eat his biscuit, because it would be just plain
wrong
to let it go to waste.

He was startled when she took off his collar, and slipped a soft red nylon one over his head, instead. But, it felt a lot better around his neck, no question about that.

He wasn't sure what he was supposed to do, so he stood stiffly by the door, waiting to see what was going to happen next.

Joan sat down on one of the throw rugs, folded her arms around her knees, and watched him for a minute. “You've had a tough time, haven't you, fella,” she said finally.

Well, yeah, maybe he had, but the dog didn't necessarily think of it that way. He was an admirably strong survivor, and maybe even a role model for canine fortitude—not some pathetic victim.

And proud
of
it.

After a while, she came over and patted him—which he permitted, but didn't encourage.

“Okay, no pressure,” she said, and withdrew.

Thomas came in to tell her that the vet had arrived. So, Joan brought him down to the room that looked like a medical office, and the dog slowly stepped onto a clean metal table that felt slippery under his paws. When it started to rise into the air, he almost jumped off, but Joan gave him a soothing pat.

“Don't worry, it's okay,” she said. She squinted at the number on the tiny screen above the table. “Seventy-three pounds! You're going to be big, once you gain enough weight to be healthy.”

Too
big, the mean family had always said.

The veterinarian walked into the room with a small medical bag. He was a cheerful-looking guy, with curly hair and a mustache.

“Thank you so much for coming over here, Dr. K.,” Joan said. “He's pretty stressed out.”

What, was that surprising, under the circumstances? Yeah, he was much cooler than the average dog—cooler than
any
other dog, in fact—but, that didn't mean that he wasn't a nervous wreck, at the moment.

“Well, I can certainly understand why he would be. Hey, there,” Dr. K. said to him, and held out the back of his hand.

Since it seemed like the sensible thing to do, the dog dutifully sniffed the vet's hand.

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