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Barker Street Regulars (Dog Lover's Series #11)

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Overview

Susan Conant continues to surprise--this time by involving dog writer Holly Winter in a wickedly amusing tale full of dastardly deeds and delightful eccentrics.

An avid devotion to the works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and an equally avid devotion to dogs, combine to draw Holly Winter and her two beloved malamutes, Rowdy and Kimi, into one of Conant's most original and entertaining mysteries to date.

Rowdy has finished his training as a therapy ...

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Barker Street Regulars (Dog Lover's Series #11)

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Overview

Susan Conant continues to surprise--this time by involving dog writer Holly Winter in a wickedly amusing tale full of dastardly deeds and delightful eccentrics.

An avid devotion to the works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and an equally avid devotion to dogs, combine to draw Holly Winter and her two beloved malamutes, Rowdy and Kimi, into one of Conant's most original and entertaining mysteries to date.

Rowdy has finished his training as a therapy dog and now accompanies Holly on weekly visits to the Gateway Nursing Home, where they meet Althea Battlefield, still formidable at the age of ninety, and her two elderly, admiring cohorts, Hugh and Robert--all fanatic devotees of the Master (as they call Sherlock Holmes).  When Althea's grandnephew is murdered at the home of her younger sister, Ceci, everyone is horrified, but it's the plight of Ceci herself--who is being victimized by an unscrupulous animal psychic--that finally unites this unlikely group in a crime-stopping spree that requires not only the finely tuned ratiocination of the Holmes admirers but the eager cooperation of an outraged Holly and the very particular talents of her willing canine accomplices.

No special knowledge of the Sherlockian canon is required for the utmost enjoyment of this engaging romp, and Conant's own devoted followers will be delighted to find her dog-loving alter ego, Holly Winter, still poking fun at the world of Cambridge eccentrics and dog fancy fanatics, but also expanding her horizons into the world of literary trivia and--yes--feline rescue, however initially reluctant.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
In the 11th Dog Lover's Mystery, Holly Winter and her dog Rowdy have become pet therapists at a nursing home. There they meet Althea Battlegate and her two admirers, Hugh and Robert. The group of elderly friends introduces Holly to "the Master," Sherlock Holmes. When Althea's nephew is murdered, and her younger sister is victimized by an animal psychic, the action heats up and "the game is afoot." Conant weaves an exciting tale, including multiple references to "The Canon" (which should appeal to Holmes devotees), a humorous look at the eccentricities of life in Cambridge, and a sympathetic portrayal of her delightful elderly characters.

—Sue Reider

From the Publisher
Praise for Susan Conant's Dog Lover's Mysteries:

Animal Appetite
"Swift and engrossing...Conant presents a witty, independent, yet fallible sleuth with inordinate pride in her two Alaskan malamutes. Why not?--they steal every scene."
--Publishers Weekly

Stud Rites
"Conant's characterizations are dead-on and her descriptions of doggy kitsch...are hilarious."
--Los Angeles Times

Black Ribbon
"Conant's people and dogs, dialogue and obsessions hold the interest chapter upon chapter, long before blood is drawn and long after."
--Mobile Register

Ruffly Speaking
"Conant's Dog Lover's series...is a real tail-wagger for lots of readers."
--Washington Post

Bloodlines
"Lively, funny, and absolutely premium."
--Kirkus Reviews

Gone to the Dogs
"The target of [Conant's] considerable wit clearly emerges as human nature."
--Publishers Weekly

From the Hardcover edition.

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Sherlockians especially will enjoy Conant's latest dog mystery (after Animal Appetite, 1997) featuring journalist Holly Winter in her most intricate case yet. Holly and her champion Alaskan malamute, Rowdy, who has earned his Rx.D. as a certified therapy dog, regularly visit a Cambridge, Mass., nursing home. There they meet Althea Battlefield and her two elderly admirers, Hugh and Robert, all three of whom are fanatic fans of Sherlock Holmes. Holly also meets Althea's wealthy younger sister, Ceci, who is actively mourning the death of her favorite dog. When Althea's grandnephew is found dead in the backyard of Ceci's home, Hugh and Robert jump at the chance to put Sherlockian technique to the test. Ceci, like many bereaved Cambridge animal lovers, has been swindled by an unscrupulous psychic. Even Holly finds herself reluctantly impressed by the psychic's apparent abilities until the fog parts during a late-night stakeout in Ceci's yard with her elderly cohorts. Conant cleverly incorporates Holmes and Watson lore into her plot and writes eloquently of what it is like to lose a beloved pet. Her story is further enhanced by her sensitive depictions of the residents of the nursing home Holly and Rowdy visit. Though their faculties may be failing, the elders' simple enjoyment of an animal's touch speaks volumes about the good a therapy dog can accomplish. (Mar.)
Library Journal
Conant's following will enjoy series sleuth Holly Winter's latest outing with malamutes Rowdy and Kimi. Rowdy's work as a therapy dog for a Sherlock Holmes fan at a local nursing home ultimately involves Holly in another case of murder.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780553576559
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 1/28/1999
  • Series: Dog Lover's Mysteries Series , #11
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Edition description: Reissue
  • Pages: 288
  • Sales rank: 543,386
  • Product dimensions: 4.21 (w) x 6.81 (h) x 0.74 (d)

Meet the Author

Susan Conant, three-time recipient of the Maxwell Award for Fiction Writing, given by the Dog Writers' Association of America, lives in Newton, Massachusetts, with her husband, two cats, and two Alaskan malamutes--Frostfield Firestar's Kobuk, CGC, and Frostfield Perfect Crime, CGC, called Rowdy.  She is the author of eleven Dog Lover's Mysteries, most recently Animal Appetite, and is now at work on her twelfth.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Read an Excerpt

When Althea Battlefield first referred to the Sacred Writings, I naturally assumed that she meant the American Kennel Club Obedience Regulations.  She didn't.  What Althea had in mind--what Althea held perpetually in the forefront of her considerable intellect--was The Complete Sherlock Holmes.  Neither had nor held is quite right, however, except perhaps in the nuptial sense of to have and to hold. Althea loved and cherished Holmes's adventures with a passion that admitted only the richer and the better, and entirely discounted the possibility of the poorer or the worse.  As to the bit about from this day forward, if you count Althea's six preliterate years of dependence on parental voices, she'd been reading Sherlock Holmes for ninety years.

This is to say that soon after Rowdy and I first entered Althea's room at the Gateway Rehabilitation and Nursing Center, she and I recognized each other as kindred spirits, women with passions: in her case, Sherlock Holmes; in mine, dogs.  Not that I disliked Holmes.  On the contrary, the ill-used hound of the Baskervilles was one of my favorite literary characters, as I was quick to tell Althea, who pretended to bristle at the suggestion that the beast had been other than real.  And not that Althea disliked dogs.  Indeed, Althea's mild fondness for dogs was the reason Rowdy and I began to visit her in the first place.  When she referred to my gorgeous Alaskan malamute as a "big husky," however, I pretended to take umbrage.  In other words, Althea knew about as much about dogs as I did about Sherlock Holmes.

Before I say anything else about Althea or about the subsequent murder of her grandnephew, Jonathan Hubbell, I want to state outright that in taking Rowdy on pet therapy visits to the Gateway, I wasn't engaged in a mission of noble altruism.  I'm ordinarily thrilled to have my self-serving motives mistaken for saintly wishes to help others, but this is a story about trickery--fakery, fraud, artifice, subterfuge, call it what you will--and I feel impelled to dissociate myself from the deliberate effort to deceive.  In fact, Rowdy became a therapy dog only because I'd taken him to an obedience fun match that also offered therapy dog testing, and I'd had him tested because I knew he'd breeze through and because I thought I'd found an effortless way to get him a new title.  Hah!  Well, Rowdy aced the test, but as I discovered only when I registered him with Therapy Dogs International, that organization takes ferocious objection to having its initials, T.D.I., used as a title.  Why?  Because of an utterly irrational suspicion that certain despicably title-hungry dog owners might see T.D.I.  only as an easy new title and, once having obtained it, might selfishly refuse to take their dogs on therapy visits.  So there I was with a certified therapy dog and no new title when I heard about a local Boston-area group called Paws for Love, which did a thorough job of screening dogs and training handlers for therapy work, and--not that I cared, of course--would bestow on Rowdy the title Rx.D. when he had visited his assigned facility fifteen times.

The plastic plaque on the wall outside Althea's room on the fifth and top floor of the Gateway displayed two names: A. BATTLEFIELD and H.  MUSGRAVE. Althea's roommate, Helen, was a sprightly little woman who took frequent advantage of the numerous events listed in the Gateway's monthly calendar and posted on the little kiosk in the first-floor lobby.  I never found Helen napping on her bed.  Rather, when she wasn't having her hair done or attending a sing-along, a coffee hour, or an arts and crafts class, she bustled around rearranging the greeting cards, snapshots, and photocopied notices pinned to her cork bulletin board.  I have never understood how Helen managed to keep track of the Gateway's elaborate schedule of events.  Her delight in the family photographs and cards on her bulletin board sprang in part from the perpetual novelty they held for her.  The identities of the pleasant-looking people in the pictures were a mystery to her; she puzzled over the handwritten messages and signatures on the cards.  The first time Rowdy and I entered Helen and Althea's room, Helen, whose bed was the one near the door, sprang from her armchair, gave an enthusiastic cry, and darted around exclaiming, "A beauty!  Isn't he big!  Isn't he big!"

Rowdy preened.  I smiled.  "You like dogs?"  Although the inquiry was clearly unnecessary, I'd been trained to ask.

Helen abruptly stopped dashing and chattering to concentrate on mulling over my question.  She acted more or less the way I would if someone asked me whether I liked caducei.  First, I'd have to remember what they were.  Then I'd have to decide whether I had any feelings about them one way or the other.

From a wheelchair positioned to give a good view out the big plate-glass window, a high-pitched, authoritative voice decreed, "Yes, but she prefers cats."

"I prefer..." Helen began unhappily.

"You like dogs, but you prefer cats," the voice informed her.

Although the woman by the window was seated, it was immediately clear that she was the tallest person I'd seen at the Gateway, taller than any of the men, indeed one of the longest women I'd ever encountered anywhere.  Her hands were so large that in the days when she'd needed outdoor clothing, before she'd entered the Gateway, she must have had to buy men's gloves.  I wondered what she'd done about hats.  Her arms were tremendously long, and instead of resting her feet on the wheelchair, she stretched her legs way out in front to plant the soles of her orthopedic shoes flat on the floor.  Her hair was short, white, curly, and so thin that her entire scalp was visible, as was the bone structure of her face.  The skin on her forehead and cheeks had passed beyond what must have been a phase of lines and crinkles to a state of smooth translucency.  Fine creases, however, surrounded blue eyes so pale that they were almost white, and folds of loose skin drooped from her elongated neck.

"I'm Holly," I said.  "And this is Rowdy.  Do you like dogs?"

Althea Battlefield thumped the padded arm of her wheelchair with an immense, bony hand.  "Bring him right up here next to me, or I won't be able to see him.  Closer!"  Her hand groped.  I used a puppy-size dog cookie to lure Rowdy into position.

"He is a big dog, isn't he?" Althea said.  "The other one that visits here is pint size.  It's what's called a bichon frise." She didn't anglicize the pronunciation, but produced a somewhat self-conscious nasal and a French r  that would have left me with a sore throat.

I was tempted to ask Althea whether she'd ever owned a dog, but felt uneasy about raising the topic.  Although I'd rapidly abandoned my resolution to shun first names, I was determined never to ask a question I'd heard from a new and well-meaning volunteer on my orientation visit: Did you have a dog?  she'd inquired of someone.  I'd cringed at the unspoken preface to the question.  Indeed, Back when you had a life, did you have a dog?

Then, turning her attention from Rowdy to me, Althea referred to the Sacred Writings.  As I've mentioned, I misunderstood her. She corrected me by pointing to a long row of hardcover books that sat on the windowsill.  Arrayed in front of the volumes was a collection of objects that reminded me of the knickknacks sold at dog shows.  Instead of depicting terriers, pointers, or spaniels, however, Althea's figurines showed a pipe-smoking man who wore an Inverness cape and a deerstalker hat.

"Oh," I said stupidly, "do you like Sherlock Holmes?"

Every once in a while, of course, some dope asks me  whether I like dogs.

During January and early February, as Rowdy and I continued to make our weekly visits to the Gateway, I began to read the Sherlock Holmes stories, some for the first time, others, like The Hound of the Baskervilles and "The Red-headed League," for the second, third, or fourth.  Let me make this plain, however: Just as a vast, woofy gulf separates the real dog person from the person who really and merely enjoys dogs, so, too, a great gaslit chasm stretches between the true Sherlockian and the person like me who truly and merely enjoys Sherlock Holmes.  I, for example, not only own two Alaskan malamutes, Rowdy and Kimi, but am a card-carrying member of the Dog Writers Association of America.  Literally!  I have a card.  I carry it.  It identifies me as a member of the press, a bit of an exaggeration, I always think--Dog's Life magazine isn't exactly The New York Times--but then again I own a D.W.A.A. baseball cap that I'm supposed to wear when I cover dog shows, and how many Times correspondents can boast the equivalent?  More to the point, when other dog people talk about fiddle fronts, woollies, sunken croups, good crowns, three-point majors, and the leathers of P.B.G.V.'s, I know exactly what's being said because everyone's speaking my language.

Feeling left out?  If so, you know just how I felt on the Friday morning in mid-February when I led Rowdy into Althea's room at the Gateway and overheard the animated conversation she was holding with Robert MacPherson and Hugh Searles.  I caught English words and phrases, sometimes whole sentences, yet entirely failed to grasp either the gist or the particulars.  I teeter-tottered on the non-Sherlockian side of the gaslit chasm.  For the sake of anyone who might actually be able to understand what Althea, Hugh, and Robert were chuckling and exclaiming about, I wish I'd had a tape recorder along, but I didn't.  What I do remember made no sense to me.  The word callosities stands out in my mind, as does a reference to a Crown Derby tea set, a mention of the supply of game for London, an evidently witty allusion to coals of fire, what sounded like an arch question from Althea about coins of Charles the First, and, from Robert, a riposte, I think, concerning, I swear, the extirpation of fish.  At that point, everyone but me burst out laughing, and Hugh remarked that I must think they were discussing the fertility of oysters.

Althea couldn't see Rowdy unless he was right next to her, but she knew my voice.  In a manner I now recognize as Watsonian, instead of telling Rowdy to go say hi, I said, "Althea, you have visitors.  If we're intruding--"

"Intelligent company is never an intrusion," Althea scolded.

Naturally, I thought she meant my idea of intelligent company, namely, the unrivaled companionship of an Alaskan malamute.  Rowdy knew better.  He sank to the floor and peacefully rested his head on his big snowshoe paws.  With the lobby ladies, he was a performer.  Gus needed a living link to the dogs he'd once loved; Rowdy was his animate time machine.  Nancy's need was raw and primitive: She suffered from the depletion of life itself.  Rowdy was her donor, like a blood donor, really, but a transfuser of vitality that you could almost see and touch as it shot from him to her and restored, however briefly, her powers of speech and reason.  Althea liked dogs.  But what she really loved was intelligent human companionship, by which she meant, of course, a conversation with someone who would talk about Sherlock Holmes.

"This is Rowdy," I told Althea's two guests.  "I'm Holly. But meet Rowdy, and you've met me.  A case of identity, so to speak."  That's a title from the Canon: "A Case of Identity."  I can be a worse show-off than Rowdy.

"Now," said Hugh, tentatively fingering the white hair on Rowdy's tummy, "would this be an Alaskan malamute?"

"He would be," I said.  "In fact, he is."

Robert lightly cleared his throat.  Rising, he reached over the Sherlock Holmes figurines and removed one of the volumes that rested on the windowsill beside Althea.  In making my way through the Gateway, I had noticed that almost no one was ever reading and that books were almost completely absent from windowsills, shelves, and other places where people displayed their belongings.  Here in Cambridge!  Book City, U.S.A.!  Althea, in contrast, kept a miniature library that included several editions of the Sacred Writings.  Her most prized possessions, which she stored in her nightstand, were what looked to me like nothing to brag about, just a pair of undersize paperbacks, although I'll concede that the little books were bound in leather and bore Althea's name stamped in gold.  She also had a small collection of books about Holmes, Watson, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.  In fact, she'd honored me by letting me borrow one; she'd wanted me to read a charming tongue-in-cheek essay by Rex Stout called "Watson Was a Woman."  Anyway, when Robert selected the same one-volume Doubleday edition of the complete works that I owned myself, I felt terrible.  I had no excuse.  Althea had tried to introduce me to the science of deduction.  But only now, as Robert picked up the book, removed a bookmark, and resettled himself in his chair, did I realize that Althea, the one person at the Gateway who lived amid books, had such poor eyesight that she was completely unable to read.  I should have read to her.  I should have scurried around finding books on tape, books, of course, about Sherlock Holmes. When I later offered to do just that, Althea refused.  Robert and Hugh read to her, she explained.  She had no desire to hear the Canon from the lips of others.

I got Rowdy to his feet and excused myself.

As we left, Robert began to read.  "Holmes laid his hand upon my arm," he began.

Hugh interrupted in a cheerful effort to continue from memory.  "If my companion would undertake it, there is no man--"

"No!" Robert bellowed.  "No, no, no!  My friend, my friend, my friend!"

"My apologies," said Hugh.

Althea's eyes were closed.  She wore a gentle smile of contentment.  The exchange between Hugh and Robert, I realized, must be as familiar to her as the Canon itself.

Mollified, Robert resumed where he had left off.  "If my friend would undertake it, there is no man who is better worth having at your side when you are in a tight place.  No one can say so more confidently than I."

Robert must simply have picked up where he'd left off.  Even so, it now seems to me that the passage from The Hound of the Baskervilles was a fitting portion of scripture for my introduction to Robert and Hugh.  Among Sherlockians, the relationship between Holmes and Watson is known as "The Friendship."

From the Hardcover edition.

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First Chapter

Chapter One

When Althea Battlefield first referred to the Sacred Writings, I naturally assumed that she meant the American Kennel Club Obedience Regulations. She didn't. What Althea had in mind -- what Althea held perpetually in the forefront of her considerable intellect -- was The Complete Sherlock Holmes. Neither had nor held is quite right, however, except perhaps in the nuptial sense of to have and to hold. Althea loved and cherished Holmes's adventures with a passion that admitted only the richer and the better, and entirely discounted the possibility of the poorer or the worse. As to the bit about from this day forward, if you count Althea's six preliterate years of dependence on parental voices, she'd been reading Sherlock Holmes for ninety years.

This is to say that soon after Rowdy and I first entered Althea's room at the Gateway Rehabilitation and Nursing Center, she and I recognized each other as kindred spirits, women with passions: in her case, Sherlock Holmes; in mine, dogs. Not that I disliked Holmes. On the contrary, the ill-used hound of the Baskervilles was one of my favorite literary characters, as I was quick to tell Althea, who pretended to bristle at the suggestion that the beast had been other than real. And not that Althea disliked dogs. Indeed, Althea's mild fondness for dogs was the reason Rowdy and I began to visit her in the first place. When she referred to my gorgeous Alaskan malamute as a "big husky," however, I pretended to take umbrage. In other words, Althea knew about as much about dogs as I did about Sherlock Holmes.

Before I say anything else about Althea or about the subsequent murder of her grandnephew, Jonathan Hubbell, I want to state outright that in taking Rowdy on pet therapy visits to the Gateway, I wasn't engaged in a mission of noble altruism. I'm ordinarily thrilled to have my self-serving motives mistaken for saintly wishes to help others, but this is a story about trickery -- fakery, fraud, artifice, subterfuge, call it what you will -- and I feel impelled to dissociate myself from the deliberate effort to deceive. In fact, Rowdy became a therapy dog only because I'd taken him to an obedience fun match that also offered therapy dog testing, and I'd had him tested because I knew he'd breeze through and because I thought I'd found an effortless way to get him a new title. Hah! Well, Rowdy aced the test, but as I discovered only when I registered him with Therapy Dogs International, that organization takes ferocious objection to having its initials, T.D.I., used as a title. Why? Because of an utterly irrational suspicion that certain despicably title-hungry dog owners might see T.D.I. only as an easy new title and, once having obtained it, might selfishly refuse to take their dogs on therapy visits. So there I was with a certified therapy dog and no new title when I heard about a local Boston-area group called Paws for Love, which did a thorough job of screening dogs and training handlers for therapy work, and -- not that I cared, of course -- would bestow on Rowdy the title Rx.D. when he had visited his assigned facility fifteen times.

Continuing in the spirit of full disclosure, I should mention my realization if I were ever to end up in a nursing home, the only thing that would cheer me up would be a visit from a big, friendly dog. I nonetheless entered the Gateway with the prejudices characteristic of most human beings and entirely foreign to dogs. First fear: The place would smell of urine. It didn't, but if it had, Rowdy would have considered the stench a fabulous bonus. Second fear: Everyone would have Alzheimer's, and ten seconds after we'd left, no one would remember we'd been there. Some people did have Alzheimer's. One was a woman named Nancy, whose body had reached a state of advanced shrinkage in which her weight in pounds equaled her age in years: ninety-three. As I learned only after our first visit to her, the Gateway staff had never before heard her utter more than a word or two. I had to be told that Nancy didn't usually speak. The first time I led Rowdy toward her wheelchair and asked whether she liked dogs, she ignored me, but croaked to him, "Beautiful! Beautiful dog! Come! Come here, beautiful dog!" Her hands were like a bird's feet. She perched one on top of Rowdy's head. He licked her face. She giggled like a child. "I love him," she said to me. "I love him."

Nancy's hearing was poor. I'd been warned to speak loudly. "I love him, too," I bellowed awkwardly. "His name is Rowdy."

On our second visit, with no prompting, Nancy called out Rowdy's name and repeated it over and over: "Rowdy. Rowdy. I love him. I love him. Rowdy. Rowdy." Licking her hands and face, Rowdy reminded me of a burly wolf tending to an emaciated feral child. Nancy suddenly looked away from Rowdy and directly at me. Her eyes were a faded hazel. She had more wrinkles than she did actual face. "God's creature," she said.

"Yes," I agreed.

Entering the Gateway for our regular Friday morning visit, Rowdy and I always found a group of five or six sociable women in the lobby, their wheelchairs arranged in a welcoming half circle across from the elevators and next to the big dining hall. As soon as I'd signed in, pinned on my volunteer's badge, and hung my parka in a closet rather alarmingly marked OXYGEN, I'd take Rowdy to the lobby, where the women made a fuss over him and helped me to train him to offer his paw gently and never to bat at people. The elderly, I'd been advised, have thin, fragile skin. On our first few visits, Rowdy himself proved more thin-skinned than I'd expected. He whined a few times and stayed so close to my left side that an obedience judge would have faulted him for crowding. Rowdy had been around wheelchairs before, but never so many as he encountered at the Gateway. And although he was used to the chaos of dog shows, the newness of everything at the nursing home taxed him.

Leaving the first floor, we took the elevator to the third. Near the nursing station, we always found a beautifully groomed woman who owned an enviable wardrobe of handsome business suits, silk blouses, and flower-patterned scarves. She never spoke a word to me. It took me a couple of visits to realize that although she didn't want a big dog anywhere near her, she enjoyed looking at Rowdy from a distance of two or three yards. There was a tidy brown-skinned man named Gus whose wheelchair was always stationed in the TV room on the third floor. Gus liked to tell me about the German shepherd dogs he'd had. On every visit, he told me about his shepherds in the same words he'd used the last time I'd been there. Rowdy didn't lick Gus's face. Gus wouldn't have liked it. "Shake!" Gus would demand. Rowdy would offer his paw, and he and Gus would exchange a dignified greeting. Then Gus would look back at the television screen, and Rowdy and I would move on, pausing in the hallways and stopping here and there in people's rooms. In the corridors and elevators, the staff of the Gateway and people who lived there commented on Rowdy. Again and again, people reached out to touch him. There was an almost religious fervency about that need to lay a hand on him. I imagined the Gateway as a deviant yet orthodox temple and Rowdy as a canine Torah.

Big, vibrant, and boundlessly affectionate though Rowdy is, there was never enough of him to go round. To avoid overburdening Rowdy, I'd been ordered to limit my first visit to twenty-five minutes and to lengthen our stays gradually. In thirty minutes, we could have given one minute each to thirty people, five minutes each to six people, a rich fifteen minutes to two. No one got enough. No one except Althea Battlefield, who wasn't even wild about dogs.

The plastic plaque on the wall outside Althea's room on the fifth and top floor of the Gateway displayed two names: A. BATTLEFIELD and H. MUSGRAVE. Althea's roommate, Helen, was a sprightly little woman who took frequent advantage of the numerous events listed in the Gateway's monthly calendar and posted on the little kiosk in the first-floor lobby. I never found Helen napping on her bed. Rather, when she wasn't having her hair done or attending a sing-along, a coffee hour, or an arts and crafts class, she bustled around rearranging the greeting cards; snapshots, and photocopied notices pinned to her cork bulletin board. I have never understood how Helen managed to keep track of the Gateway's elaborate schedule of events. Her delight in the family photographs and cards on her bulletin board sprang in part from the perpetual novelty they held for her. The identities of the pleasant-looking people in the pictures were a mystery to her; she puzzled over the handwritten messages and signatures on the cards. The first time Rowdy and I entered Helen and Althea's room, Helen, whose bed was the one near the door, sprang from her armchair, gave an enthusiastic cry, and darted around exclaiming, "A beauty! Isn't he big! Isn't he big!"

Rowdy preened. I smiled. "You like dogs?" Although the inquiry was clearly unnecessary, I'd been trained to ask.

Helen abruptly stopped dashing and chattering to concentrate on mulling over my question. She acted more or less the way I would if someone asked me whether I liked caducei. First, I'd have to remember what they were. Then I'd have to decide whether I had any feelings about them one way or the other.

From a wheelchair positioned to give a good view out the big plate-glass window, a high-pitched, authoritative voice decreed, "Yes, but she prefers cats."

"I prefer..." Helen began unhappily.

"You like dogs, but you prefer cats," the voice informed her.

Although the woman by the window was seated, it was immediately clear that she was the tallest person I'd seen at the Gateway, taller than any of the men, indeed one of the longest women I'd ever encountered anywhere. Her hands were so large that in the days when she'd needed outdoor clothing, before she'd entered the Gateway, she must have had to buy men's gloves. I wondered what she'd done about hats. Her arms were tremendously long, and instead of resting her feet on the wheelchair, she stretched her legs way out in front to plant the soles of her orthopedic shoes flat on the floor. Her hair was short, white, curly, and so thin that her entire scalp was visible, as was the bone structure of her face. The skin on her forehead and cheeks had passed beyond what must have been a phase of lines and crinkles to a state of smooth translucency. Fine creases, however, surrounded blue eyes so pale that they were almost white, and folds of loose skin drooped from her elongated neck.

Althea introduced herself. Early that morning, I'd tried to think of some way to avoid using only the first names of the people I'd meet. When, as part of a group of new volunteers, I'd trailed after an experienced therapy-dog handler and her Portuguese water dog on an orientation session at another nursing home, I'd felt uncomfortable with the practice. People in nursing homes were not schoolchildren; they had grown up in a long-gone era of formality; I wanted to follow the old rules. I couldn't. For one thing, I didn't always know what people's last names or titles were. For another, I didn't want to insult the staff of the Gateway by arrogantly diverging from the universal custom. And was I to be Ms. Winter instead of Holly? After only a few minutes, though, I felt okay about using first names, which were, after all, better than none. Furthermore, as I reminded myself, everyone in the world of dogs went by first names, and plenty of the people I trained and showed with were at least as old as the people at the Gateway.

"I'm Holly," I said. "And this is Rowdy. Do you like dogs?"

Althea Battlefield thumped the padded arm of her wheelchair with an immense, bony hand. "Bring him right up here next to me, or I won't be able to see him. Closer!" Her hand groped. I used a puppy-size dog cookie to lure Rowdy into position.

"He is a big dog, isn't he?" Althea said. "The other one that visits here is pint size. It's what's called a bichon frise." She didn't anglicize the pronunciation, but produced a somewhat self-conscious nasal and a French r that would have left me with a sore throat.

I was tempted to ask Althea whether she'd ever owned a dog, but felt uneasy about raising the topic. Although I'd rapidly abandoned my resolution to shun first names, I was determined never to ask a question I'd heard from a new and well-meaning volunteer on my orientation visit: Did you have a dog? she'd inquired of someone. I'd cringed at the unspoken preface to the question. Indeed, Back when you had a life, did you have a dog?

Then, turning her attention from Rowdy to me, Althea referred to the Sacred Writings. As I've mentioned, I misunderstood her. She corrected me by pointing to a long row of hardcover books that sat on the windowsill. Arrayed in front of the volumes was a collection of objects that reminded me of the knickknacks sold at dog shows. Instead of depicting terriers, pointers, or spaniels, however, Althea's figurines showed a pipe-smoking man who wore an Inverness cape and a deerstalker hat.

"Oh," I said stupidly, "do you like Sherlock Holmes?"

Every once in a while, of course, some dope asks me whether I like dogs.

CHAPTER ONE CONTINUES.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 24, 2014

    Raid requsts

    Go here. Put which clan u want to raid.

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