Half an hour after the ship's horn blasted, Jeff was looking down from the forward part of the promenade deck onto a working area just behind the ship's bows. Members of the crew were laying out yellow ropes as thick around as his arm in long orderly loops across the deck.
The just-too-hard punch on the arm came at the same moment as his father's voice announced with forced enthusiasm, "First stop... coming up!"
He really is trying, Jeff thought. Very trying, a little voice added inside his head and he grinned. Mom and Dad looked pleased and Jeff didn't see any need to explain.
From their position near the bow, they could see that the land on either side of the ship had closed in to form a narrow channel. It seemed hardly wide enough to leave room for the big cruise liner. In the distance ahead, Jeff could see another ship already tied to a long grey wharf. Beyond it, the glass and cement of a few small office towers raised their heads. Many more smaller buildings ran out along the shore to either side of the wharf, and a little way up the very lowest slopes of the mountain that loomed above the whole inlet.
"Welcome to Juneau," a booming voice announced over the public address system. "We will be arriving shortly at Berth Two. Once the ship has docked, you will have just over five hours to explore Alaska's historic state capital. The ship's whistle will sound at approximately six o'clock, one half-hour prior to our departure. Please return to the vessel at that time."
Before leaving the ship, Jeff and his parents returned
briefly to their cabin. Jeff grabbed his denim jacket and checked to
make sure his wallet was still in the left-hand back pocket of his jeans.
He shot a glance at the brass canister that gleamed softly on the little table.
Then he flashed on the look of scorn in the eyes of the girl with the pigtails.
I'll be back soon, Buddy, he promised silently, and turned toward the door.
Then he led the way to where a steeply tilted gangplank ran down from the ship's deck to the Juneau waterfront. It was very different from the one in Vancouver. This wharf was functional rather than fancy, built from heavy squared timbers tarred like railway ties.
As they stepped off the gangplank, a crew member handed each of them a glossy tourist brochure. "There's a town map in the center," she said, smiling. "And be sure to check out Juneau's Official Boat Greeter, just down the dock. In the 1930's, she was the most famous canine west of the Mississippi."
The word 'canine' caught Jeff's attention. He looked down the dock and squinted. He could see a splash of that yellowy-green color that bronze statues turn when they're left outside. But there was something about the shape of this particular statue... He stuffed the brochure in a pocket and tore off down the dock.
It was a statue of a dog, somewhat bigger than life-size. The heavy head was turned
toward him, as though waiting for him to appear. And more
than just any dog, this is a breed I know. The sturdy square shoulders, the broad head and deep muzzle, the skimpy tail draped out behind. They were all as familiar as Buddy's deep "woof" whenever he wanted the boy's attention.
Yes! It has to be!
"Look!" Jeff yelled at his parents, arriving at a more leisurely pace behind him. "It's a bull terrier!"
He sat on the edge of the weathered wooden sill that surrounded the statue and ran his fingers over the cold bronze shoulders. He swallowed hard, his fingers remembering the familiar shape.
"Her name is Patsy Ann," Frances Beacon's voice came from behind a big Welcome to Juneau sign. Reading, she went on: "'Although deaf from birth, somehow she 'heard' the whistle of ships from as far away as half a mile, and headed at a fast trot for the wharf, not to be dissuaded for any purpose whatsoever.'"
Jeff stroked the wide bronze forehead and tickled behind the
pointed bronze ears. " 'Furthermore,'" his mother continued reading, " 'Somehow she knew
which dock the ship would tie to.' Now, how do you suppose she knew that?"
"Oh Mom," replied Jeff, "they just know!" Just like Buddy always knew.
"Because of her unerring sense of the arrival of each ship
that visited Juneau, and her faithful welcome at wharfside," Mom's voice read on, "the Mayor dubbed
Patsy Ann "Official Greeter of Juneau Alaska" in 1934.'"
Jeff's father was starting to fidget. He looked like he'd had quite enough of this Patsy Ann character.
"Oh, and listen to this," Mom went on. "It says that when she died, in 1942,
her coffin was lowered into Gastineau channel, 'just a short distance
from where the sculpture now sits, watching and waiting with eternal
patience.' What a wonderful story," she ended, sounding a little dreamy.
"Oh come on, Frances," Dad erupted. "I hardly think the plan was to come all this way just so we could dwell on another dead dog." Lightening up a little, he added, "C'mon guys, let's go. We've got a whole town to explore..."
Jeff looked pleadingly at his mother. "Aw, c'mon Mom. Can I stay here awhile... Please? I'm not done looking yet. And I'd like to see what else it says about Patsy Ann."
"Son," his father's deep baritone interrupted. "I really don't think that's a good idea."
"Oh Dad...," They treat me like I'm a child, he thought, anger rising. He could hardly wait for the day when he wouldn't have to ask permission for anything ever again. "Look Dad, I'm fine. I'm big enough not to get into trouble. And I'm not going to get lost." He pulled the brochure from his jacket pocket. "See, I've even got a map."
Jeff's parents exchanged glances. And Jeff knew he'd won even before Dad nodded reluctant agreement. "Have you got some money?" his mother asked. Without waiting for an answer, she dug into her fanny pack and handed him two American twenty-dollar bills. "Here, maybe you'll find a sweatshirt you like or something." She looked away as she gave it to him.
Hey, this is OK, Jeff smiled secretly to himself, taking the bills and slipping them into his wallet alongside the one his father had given him the day before.
"But remember," it was Dad's listen-up voice. "It's almost one now. If we don't meet up in town, you find your own way back here no later than six o'clock. I don't want you holding up the ship. Or worse, not making it back aboard! You have your watch on?"
"Yes Dad," Jeff sighed. "It's almost one o'clock. I've got the game plan. I'll be okay. I'll probably catch up with you, anyway. This town doesn't look all that big."
"Okay son," his parents said in almost the same breath. Then, finally, they were gone, following the other tourists from the cruise ship as they set out to explore Juneau. Jeff was alone with Patsy Ann.
She looked a little skinnier than Buddy, Jeff thought. Her nose was definitely thinner. He sat back down and ran his hand up and down the smooth statue once again. It was cold to his touch. But somehow, he thought he could
feel a warmth, like some kind of dog energy, flowing out of the metal.
A gruff bark broke in on his thoughts. His heart leapt. He knew that bark! He stood up and looked around.
Twice more the oh-so-familiar sound rang out, the note getting
sharper each time. Just like when I don't figure out what Buddy
wants fast enough, he thought. The boy turned toward the sound.
There he is! Standing just across the street, beside some kind of store. He was watching Jeff, head down, his dark and piggy little eyes and black nose making a triangle in the white face. Between the alert pointed ears, Jeff could see a white tail waving back and forth. As he watched, the stocky white dog opened its mouth to bark again, briefly flashing gleaming white teeth and pink tongue.
Yes! Jeff felt like something was going to come
apart in his chest. His eyes were smarting. I knew you'd come back! "Buddy!" he called, and started running.
For a moment, the dog stood in the same spot and watched him come on. Then without warning it turned and bolted down an alleyway. "Buddy!" Jeff shouted again, piling on steam.
It was hard to see in the deep shadow between the buildings, but Jeff kept running. In the dimness ahead he could see flashes of white as the dog galloped away in front of him. "Buddy! Slow down, wait for me," he called, but the white glimpses got no closer. He pumped hard, dodging trash bins and stacks of old junk as he went.
The alley was criss-crossed with others and didn't follow a straight course. It was all Jeff could do to stay on his feet and make sure he kept sight of the dog's retreating rear end. Soon, he had completely lost any sense of what direction they were running in. The alley got narrower and darker. He skidded round a corner, bounced off the wall to the right and had to dodge fast to avoid running into a big, upended barrel.
Suddenly he was out of the alley and pulling to a stop in the open air. The dog was there, sitting on the far edge of a wooden boardwalk, facing him. Its mouth was open in a wide, toothy grin. Jeff could swear it was laughing at him.
But now that he saw the dog close-up, he could also see
that this sure wasn't Buddy. "Hiya girl," said Jeff, swallowing hard. He knelt and rubbed his fingers into the short fur behind her ears.
What had he thought? Dead dogs don't come back to life. He'd better stop this
foolishness or he'd be back spending time with Dr. Pickleface.
Buddy was in a brass urn back on the ship. And this dog might be a
bull terrier, but she wasn't his bully. She isn't my Buddy.
He reached around her to scratch the far side of her neck, noticing that she didn't have a collar on. When one grimy back foot began to lift and twitch in response, he laughed at the familiar reflex. The dog grinned even more widely, making little wrinkles in the fur at the corners of her mouth.
At last Jeff stood up and gave the stray one final pat. "You sure are cute," he said, "but I'm afraid I've gotta go." The dog's wide grin faded and she cocked her head, fixing beady eyes on him. "You be a good girl now," he said finally, then turned back into the alley.
Blinding pain exploded between his nose and his forehead. His vision filled with brilliant blue sparklers, and he felt himself land hard on his bum on the ground.
He opened his eyes. The alley was gone.
In its place was a very solid, very hard, brick wall.