Shadow howled frantic harmony to September’s cries. He didn’t know how he could hear her in the car. She wasn’t here. And she couldn’t hear him, though he barked loud and long.
His fur stood at furious attention. He showed his teeth, snapped and snarled, eager to defend. She was his person. A good-dog protected his people. He had to find her. Shadow keened and paw-punched the cage.
“Stop it.” In the front seat Teddy clapped his hands over his ears. “Shut up. Be a good-dog.”
A good-dog obeyed people. Shadow paused and flattened his ears. He licked the wire of the crate and whimpered. September screamed, and Shadow threw himself against the wire again. The latch jiggled. So he did it again. And again.
“Quiet, no, no, no, no. Bad dog.”
Shadow ignored Teddy’s growls. He didn’t care. He’d be a bad-dog on purpose. How could he ignore September’s screams?
“Shadow, please stop. You’ll hurt yourself.” Teddy turned around in the car seat and his brow wrinkled. His eyes rained wet.
Shadow paused. He whined. Maybe Teddy did understand. His tail wagged the hopeful question, and he tap-danced in place. He willed Teddy to understand.
“I called the police. They’re on the way.” The old man made no move to open the door. He just sat there, and ducked his head each time September screamed. “We just got to wait.”
Yelping in frustration, Shadow bit the wire mesh of the door, growled, and snarled. Tugged—like with Bear-toy. His gums split on the sharp wire. Salt-copper tang raised his arousal. His tail churned the air and battered the cage, a drumbeat counterpoint to the tug-contest.
The old man’s scent chemicals choked the stale air, and cried “uncle” louder than puppy pee. Teddy had given up.
Shadow grabbed the wire and shook it. Bloody drool spattered the floor of the crate.
Teddy covered his ears. He surged forward, fiddled with something, and September was silenced.
Shadow cocked his head. He licked his lips, shuddered at the copper taste, and stared at Teddy. Shadow woofed, yawned and whined, the most persuasive tone he could. He pawed the door. Two claws had torn loose, and added to the blood on the floor. He couldn’t make it any clearer. He needed out.
The old man waggled his head. That meant no. Shadow furrowed his brow, cocked his head. But he was right. He knew it. To protect Steven, he’d learned to think for himself, to make right choices, no matter what. It was a good-dog’s job to know when to disobey. That time was now.
Shadow laced back his ears, lowered his head. He hurled himself against the front of the crate. Backed up and did it again. He’d force the door open. Get out. Go to September. Because he belonged with her. Because they belonged together. Because he must.
His body battered the cage like a furry mallet, and jiggled the clasp open increments at a time. The fastener worked like his kennel at home. He’d get out. He didn’t need Teddy. Shadow wasted no further breath on howls.
“Please stop. I can’t let you out. Be a good-dog, shush, just calm down.”
Shadow knew the man was staring at him, but didn’t pause. Each grunted impact moved the hasp closer to opening.
Teddy swiveled, flung open the door, and lurched out of the car. Shadow redoubled his efforts. He pawed the hasp. It moved in his favor. Another claw caught, and he yanked it free with a yelp. But the latch almost opened. He uttered frustrated whines, and he switched paws to continue the onslaught.
Teddy rushed to the back of the car and opened the tailgate. “Damn dog.” He reached to secure the fastener. “Hell, it’s nearly open.”
The old man flinched and yelled, “Back off!”
Teddy’s sudden command stopped Shadow dead. He watched, suspicious but hopeful. The man stared at him.
“You convinced me, dog. It’s your choice. And your grave.” His voice caught. “So okay, you crazy sonofabitch, you want out?” He reached for the crate door.
Out, yes! Shadow didn’t wait for Teddy. A final body-slam rocketed open the latch. The metal grate whipped into the man’s glasses and sliced open his cheek. Teddy toppled backwards into the snow.
Shadow vaulted from the car, and cleared the sprawled figure with one joyous leap. He found September’s scent, and hop-scotched and bulldozed through snow so deep it scraped his belly. But the bloody paw prints left in his wake spelled a message of fear, hope, and determination only good-dogs could read.
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