Ambra, that’s the word they use when calling me. It has something to do with my skin, the colour of my pelt, because they usually have colour in their eyes when looking at me. If they look at me at all.
So “Ambra” she calls. It is a she. All the others fawn to it but there is a smell, a distinction, that I recognize from other shes and their little ones. Especially those still in suckle, though they rarely come to the big house where we live - the she and I and all those others in her near pack, the ones dressed in special coverings that match, and the ones who are more important and choose their own covering. Only they don’t look at me mostly, and these days I rarely look at them. Just sit with my nose resting on my front paws and wait. For what? I don’t know. Sometimes I just sit, the waiting forgotten. But it comes back to me, like an itch, that things are wrong between her and me, that they could be good, or at least better.
The living together without love, caring physically for the other without the inner wish to do it, but simply because the other is bigger, stronger, has been there for a long time. A wrongness. Prickling of skin. Unease. But I hide it well, I think. Nose on paws, watch the wall, don’t show her others what is in my eyes. She never looks any more so there is no need to hide my feelings from her, sadly. No fingers under the jaw, no teasing, stroking note in her voice, tired after meetings, hoarse with the smoke and long talking, to say “Ambra, what’s up old girl? What’s cooking?” Cooking is a word she often uses, but not to me. It hasn’t been “cooking” to me for, oh, surely a turn now. Since before the last fall of leaf.
And today, a difference, something new? There is always something new in the big house, new smells, new strangers to fear, who wear heavy foot coverings and carry long dark sticks redolent of dead oils. And those that carry no sticks but control the ones who do. Yet this difference is not the same as any other. It is a questing, like when I first became part of her pack and they nosed me, decided whether I would be accepted by them, welcomed, or merely tolerated. Those were good days when her love of me was clear, and all sought to please, appease, come closer to me, according to their need for her favour. But many turns have gone since that time. Her love of me is no longer clear to them or to me, though I searched her face for it often when I sensed it going. Not now.
So the questing, faces turning my way, special food to tempt me, a stray caress from an unknown hand. Alright in themselves, even better if I felt they reflected her concern. But not enough to wake me from this sleep, as deep as sleep after feasting, only there has been no feasting. As I do not understand the reasons behind this questing, it does not please me, but at least I have noticed it, which little causes now. I shall sleep deeper now, too deep for thought, excuse me.
“That damn dog! Why do we need a meeting to discuss the President’s pet pooch, Francine? I mean, there’s fresh trouble in the Gulf, Serbs are giving it to Croats all over the place, and the Irish problem is winding up the Brits again. So why do we need to talk about Cody’s dog?”
“You know what she is, Karl ?”
“She’s the President, that’s all I need to know,” he warned, an eye to the walls and other places for listeners.
“No, not her, the dog I mean.”
“Well, she’s a Labrador cross I’d guess. Never had one of them myself but not a bad looking bitch all the same, with that lovely golden coat. Cody very fond of her then?”
“No, she’s not just a dog, somebody’s pet, even somebody as powerful as Cody. Listen. Not many people in the White House are supposed to know this, but she’s a body dog.”
“Hell! Why would old Cody need a body dog? She’s got nothing wrong with her that a dog could help with, not blind anyway. I know that for a fact. Why, last Tuesday, I walked into her office with egg on my tie and she pulled me up on it before I could even sit down. Sloppy dress - lazy mind, she said, just like my old school teacher, bloody woman!”
“She has though,” Francine said, her voice lower than before.
“Something wrong with her.”
“What is it then?”
“Holy cow! Who else knows about it?”
“You, me, her doctor and Cody herself, of course. Couple of Pentagon types and the Vice President.”
“How long’s she had it?”
“It developed after that assassination attempt. You remember she was hit in the head by a ricochet?”
“And the dog?”
“The dog watches her, knows what to do if she’s about to have an attack.”
“What kind of nonsense is this, Francine?” His voice was rougher than usual. “Someone’s been pulling your leg! No dog could spot epilepsy coming, surely?”
“That’s what I said, when the doctor first told me,” she replied. “But Ambra’s done it three times. It’s what she was trained for. Very expensive training too, like they give guide dogs for the blind, and it takes months.”
“Well, always supposing she can spot an attack coming, what can any damn dog do to call for help?”
“She has a special collar on. Touching that collar with the right front paw, which has an embedded micro chip, causes a radio message to alert the President’s team of personal physicians. As I say, it’s worked before. Each time they got to her minutes before an attack.”
“Jesus wept, when was this?”
“The last attack was six months ago. Then there was one about a year ago, and the first one Ambra spotted was seven months before that. Only now, for some reason she’s stopped watching the President, never looks at her at all. There’s nothing between Cody and the edge of the cliff, now, nothing at all.”
“And no one else knows?”
“That’s right. You can imagine how the voters would react to the idea of national security being in the hands of someone who was subject to epileptic fits? It’s still seen, by less educated people, as a first cousin to madness.”
“True . . .” He paused, horrified himself by the knowledge he’d just been entrusted with. Cody was so strong, so much the leader. That was why a person like him was attracted to her and would do more or less anything to further her cause. Yet this flaw - didn’t it alter the way he felt? Well, maybe, maybe not. He could still call to mind that rock steady face, the square jaw and wide set grey eyes, light brown hair carefully waved back from the broad forehead in a faintly patrician style. She not only was the leader, goddammit, an archetypal personality to whom one naturally deferred, she even looked the part. Perhaps it would change how he felt in the future but that was then, not now, and as the President’s Security Chief he had a role to play. He turned back to the thin, smartly dressed woman who was Cody’s long time secretary and personal assistant. “What does she want me to do, Francine?”
“As a matter of fact, she doesn’t want either of us to do anything, Karl. Says there isn’t a problem. I don’t know if she can’t see how Ambra has changed or whether it would hurt her ego to admit it.”
“So where does that leave us? We can’t just ignore the issue. What if she had a fit during one of her TV broadcasts or when she’s talking to some bigwig in Africa?”
“Precisely, Karl. That’s what worries me. These fits aren’t physically dangerous to Cody, assuming she doesn’t hit her head on anything when falling over but, politically, they would be death. So what I want your help with is this - my cousin Verona moves in different circles from me. She’s done some acting off Broadway and writes environmental poetry, that kind of thing. Anyway, she tells me there’s an animal healer, with some kind of psychic powers, in Great Lakes. All the top people go to him, when their race horse won’t run or their prize Siamese has just bitten the son and heir.”
“And you want me to get him?”
“Yes. Get in contact, discreetly, and have him check out Ambra.”
“What if he’s busy?”
“Oh, you know the routine, Karl? Just wave a few extra thousand dollar bills under his nose.”
“Won’t Cody refuse to see him?”
“I think I can handle her when the time comes,” Francine murmured.
The man Karl had come to see sat in a dimly lit room, cross legged on the rug. Karl thought him absurdly young to be so well connected. The face was dark skinned, with features that only hinted at his Iroquois father, owing more to the French Canadian side of his family. A pair of large dark eyes, soft as chocolate brownies, surveyed Karl gently, as if considering his request. Hell, thought Karl, shifting awkwardly on the low stool, if someone offered me twenty thousand green ones to sort out a dog, I’d jump at it. What’s to think about? But he kept silent. If Cody and her yellow bitch needed this man’s help, then Karl would swallow just about anything to get it.
“You are the President’s Security Advisor?” The voice was slightly inflected, with a French accent, and very musical.
Karl relaxed. At least the guy was living in the real world. “That’s right, Mr. Feather in the Wind.”
“Feather will do fine while we’re talking like this.”
“And you want me to visit Washington to see what’s wrong with the President’s body dog?”
“Yeah. And to cure her. The dog, I mean.”
“If I can.”
“As you say, Feather, if you can. Of course, if there’s nothing to be done, we’ll get a new dog. But Cody, the President, it’ll take quite a bit to convince her to junk Ambra. Been together a long time.”
“I am reassured to hear she is attached to Ambra,” Feather said quietly. “Loving surroundings are the starting point for any successful healing.”
“So you’ll come?”
“I’ll think about it. Washington is not my home. Usually clients come to me, here, where the air is clean and I can get out onto the hills in no time. To spend days or weeks on Capitol Hill, well, as I said, I’ll have to think about it.”
“Don’t take too long now,” Karl’s tone was just this side of a threat.
“I will contact you when I’ve made my decision,” Feather told him, standing up in one fluid motion and looking down at Karl who still sat upon the stool. Karl got to his feet. He knew enough about power to realise the interview was over.
Feather in the Wind was brought to the White House two days later. His journey was swift. Less than ten minutes after his cable had reached Karl, a CIA man arrived in Feather’s office with passes which allowed them to board Air Force One. Such speed leaves one little time to adjust to new circumstances, Feather thought, staring around the room he had been allocated. It was furnished richly, but with a certain restraint that pleased him. Two original oil paintings hung on the walls, both of children in a New England primitive style, and their eyes seemed to follow him, welcoming, as he unpacked.
The first meeting was scheduled for fifteen hundred hours. Feather in the Wind was introduced to Cody and Ambra by Francine, who left the three of them alone together. He studied the human partner first. Waves of force reached him, a formidable sense of coiled, leashed power, of an inner strength. But tension too, in the set of the shoulders and the clasped hands. There was wariness in the look she gave him, as well as evaluation. He guessed it might be hard to be lord of all the world and unable to command the allegiance of one’s own dog. Cody had adopted what looked like a relaxed pose. He recognised it as similar to the way she had sat for a news broadcast before the Mars launch. But he could see that it was a carefully engineered posture and not a reflection of inner calm. “I believe you call your dog Ambra?” he asked, knowing it was so, yet wanting to listen to Cody speak about the animal.
“Yes, that’s right.”
“Was it you who chose the name Ambra?”
“When she came to me, they had been calling her Jenny, but I wanted something different.”
“Yes, special, a celebration of her beauty.”
“So you found her beautiful?”
“Indeed, that wonderful coat, those eyes!”
He noticed Ambra’s head lift from her paws briefly but the dog’s thoughts were shielded from him so he continued to converse with the human. “And has her appearance changed at all in the years you’ve know her?”
Cody thought for a moment, her forehead puckered. One hand slipped from the restraining clasp of the other and plucked at a wisp of hair near her right cheek. “No, not really, Ambra still looks the way she did then. A little larger, perhaps? The training centre sends out body dogs before they’re full grown so they can bond better.” She said the word bond with a tiny, sideways flicker of her eyes at the dog, as if testing the strength of the link. But the Labrador was still staring at the wall. Cody looked back at Feather with what seemed like a very genuine appeal in her face. He sometimes wished he could read the thoughts of humans as clearly as he could those of other mammals. “Please, Feather, help my dog. If she has a problem, sort her out. I know what Francine thinks but I don’t want to send Ambra away and start over with a new body dog, not while she’s still alive and well anyway.”
“I will try, Cody.” He noted her start at his use of her first name, but she had made free with his, as no doubt she did every day to members of her staff. It was a politician’s tactic.
“If you need me for anything, tell Francine,” she said, getting to her feet and preparing to leave.
“I will, Cody, just as soon as I’ve had a talk with your dog.”
“A talk? Yes, I see. Well, just call Francine with that bell over there. Basically, whatever you need, we’ll have it fetched.” And she was gone, a big woman in every sense, the room calmer from her departure but emptier too. He turned his attention to the Labrador. She lay there, staring at the patterns on the damask wall paper as if they fascinated her, but her thoughts were carefully hidden. Feather took off his shoes, tie and jacket and arranged them neatly on a chair. Then he sat down, cross legged in front of the dog, and began to meditate. The light trance held him in a centre of stillness, poised over a lake that was half real and half in his imagination. Its blue grey waters reflected the mountains of his home, clouds scudded briskly before a light wind, long runs of grass bent in sympathy before the wind, their harmonious waves rippling from hill foot to hill head with the single surface of a wolf pelt. A perfect day for a walk, human and canine partnered together, the thrill of the fresh air and undiscovered countryside lying ahead of them.
Ah? She was paying attention now. Without breaking his trance, he could see that her head was up, the ears forward and alert. He sent out a thought. Nothing specific, more of an invitation to dialogue.
She acknowledged it, ducking her head momentarily.
“My name is Feather in the Wind.”
“I am Watcher,” she responded.
“So, Watcher, will you talk with me?”
“I will. Though you come close, closer than others.” There was confusion in her mind, not hostility but an echo of the wariness he had observed in Cody.
“I come close, yes, but only when you let me.” He spread his hands wide to show they were empty, the traditional gesture of a stranger, chance met, who carries no weapon.
Her ears relaxed again. “What do you want?” Watcher’s mind voice was deep and honey coloured, like her pelt.
“I want to talk to you. To listen also when you speak. Will that be permitted?”
“Permitted?” The thought was a shrug of pain denied. “Why should it not be permitted? I have no rights here.”
“You feel you have no rights?”
“What rights might you have?”
“To be loved, to be asked how I feel, to be with her truly and not just watching from the outside.”
“Ah?” He kept his mind-voice light, a mere feather of a touch, from which his name had come, lest it disturb her train of thought. “Did you have such rights before?”
“Before, long time before, I felt them.”
“You liked that feeling?”
“I was with her. She looked at me, saw me. I was in her space, right inside where only Francine goes.”
“And Francine? Does she look at Francine she way she used to look at you?”
“I don’t know. Francine is unhappy now, but she still looks at Francine when they’re alone.”
“If they’re alone, how do you know?”
“I mean, when only I am there with them.”
“You are Watcher. What was it that you watched?”
“Her face, small muscles beside her mouth, the size of her pupils, minute patterns in the dance of her head and neck and shoulders. A certain combination of all these that meant pain for her, that meant danger.”
“And when you saw this combination?”
“I was to warn the pack, by touching my neck ring.”
“It is a special thing, then, to be a watcher?”
“I suppose so.”
“And when you watch her now, what do you see?”
“I don’t know what you mean . . .” The thought was an evasion, as close as thoughts can come to lies.
“Is she changed from before?” he asked.
“Watcher, is she changed from before?” he repeated, aware that such repetition verged on offence.
“I don’t know. She must be, surely, for I feel so bad.”
“So bad, in fact, that you no longer watch her, do you?”
“No.” The admission was almost inaudible.
It was tiring, doing such close work, and Feather shifted position slightly. “Watcher, do you ever leave this place?”
“Sometimes Francine takes me for walks.”
“I would like to take you for a walk?”
They got up and he rang for Francine, conscious of the miles of carefully guarded, carpeted and air conditioned corridor that lay between this room and freedom. The walk was a success and they went back to Feather’s room refreshed. That day and the next, he made progress in establishing what Watcher felt, but by the second night he was deeply weary of his surroundings. Every breath of air that entered his lungs had been handled by machinery and stripped of whatever outside smells it might have carried, leaving only the thin, used scent of pumps and gears. Lying in the half darkness of his room, he identified the outlines of the children in the two paintings and imagined them playing freely on the hills near his home. They would start in their own back yard, early on a morning rich with the aroma of freshly cut grass. From there, they would run swiftly past the riding stables where manure was being bagged up for sale to local gardeners. Next, they would pass the woodyard on the outskirts of town. One of Feather’s earliest pleasures had been the smell of pine, chopped into lengths for moving down river, and still full of its resinous perfume. He would run with the children to the high tops, where wild birds called, and the ground changed at every step from curling ferns to outcrops of rock and the uncertain morass of waterlogged turf.
But it was all so far away. He turned on his side and rested his forehead on one arm, shaken by a wave of need for the outdoors.
His talk with Watcher the next day got off to a bad start. Feather had not gone deep enough into trance when she started sending, and he felt her anger stir at his lack of intelligent response. Gradually, the words came clear, though. She was talking of Cody’s seizures. “And the noise, and the pain. She shook. I was near, but nothing, Feather, nothing to do, no help, no paw on flank, no nosing. Just men in white coverings, carrying Cody away. I said . . . said in me . . . no one else to say it to.”
“What did you say, Watcher?”
“Said no more looking. More than two times I look now, and each time I look it ends in pain for her, in them taking her away. And I stay here, not knowing where she is, and whether she’s coming back, or not.” Her mental voice, so fierce and urgent for a few moments, died away into almost nothing, just a low murmuring, a kind of internal shuffling of symbols to which he held no key.
Still he listened though, listened intently, until sweat beaded his forehead and tension shot pain through his knees and shoulders. At length he moved, resting his hands on the carpet for balance while he scrambled to his feet. There he stood for a moment, focusing his gaze on Watcher. She might have been asleep but he was sure that thoughts skittered around somewhere inside her head, finding no escape. He held out a hand and, as he suspected, she was awake and got to her feet listlessly, following him to the door.
A quick game of catch in the White House garden was all they could manage but it shook a lot of the tension out of them both. Afterwards he sat with her in the sunshine, one arm across her back, his head resting against her right ear. She was very subdued. “Sadness?” he asked.
“I am nothing.”
“I was a watcher, a carer, in charge of a person. As a mother to her pup. But then I stopped watching. Now there is nothing to me, nothing in me. I might finish and she would not know.”
“Do you believe that?”
“Don’t you, Feather?”
“What do you think?”
“I think you stopped watching because Cody’s pain hurt and frightened you. And she was sad about not being watched so she stopped looking at you. I am here to help you and Cody, to help you to watch her and her to look at you. You know that?”
“Yes. But will I, can I bear to watch her again when it means pain?”
“It is not the watching that brings pain, not the loving or waiting or collar touching. Cody has a bad place in her head. When it hurts she falls down and maybe the pain gets worse. If you are watching and can call the helpers, then she will get better. That is what watching is for.”
“Oh? But it feels like I make her hurt.”
“I can see that, but you are wrong.”
She felt him nod and heard his mouth shape the word that, from him, meant only truth. It was time to let go of fear and grief. Time for yes rather than no.
After three days, Feather was ready to report to Cody. He took a long bath and put on ceremonial robes, preparing himself physically as well as mentally for a change in the person he spoke with. It could be difficult to make the transition back to close speech with humans. Cody too was dressed differently today, in a powder blue jumper and grey skirt that had been worn down to the softness of favourite clothes. They sat in her office again, but in easy chairs, and the Labrador was not present. The President asked for a progress report and he inclined his head to her.
“We are making strides, Cody. Your dog has made great efforts to meet me half way, to open up and share her thoughts with me.”
“What are her thoughts, Feather in the Wind?”
“Principally they concern you, and her relationship with you.”
“What does she think?” asked Cody, a slight clenching of her hands belying the calm voice.
“I will only tell you what she says if you promise me something first.”
“Feather in the Wind! You are contracted to cure Ambra and are not in any position to make demands of your President.”
“As you say, Cody. Would you like me to go and pack now?”
“No. Don’t. I want to know what Ambra thinks, truly. I’m just not used . . .”
“To my manner? Well, with time you could get used to it, as I could to yours no doubt.”
“So, what does she think?”
“Firstly, your promise.”
“That if I tell you what she has confided in me, you will work with me to help her, and not send me away until that work is done?”
“In that case, I can tell you that she is very unhappy. She misses you.”
“But we are always together?”
“No, the you whom she first loved and cared for, the relationship you had then, that is what she misses.”
“And what does she miss about it?” Cody’s voice was full of echoes of past time and her gaze was fixed on the curtains behind her desk.
“Many things, your touch under her jaw, the warmth of your voice, time spent walking together instead of cooped up here, meals shared, all the marks of love.”
“But I still love her!”
“And do you show it in the ways she mentioned?”
“No, it is there, only . . .”
“Only the world is heavy and you are just one woman,” he said softly.
“Something like that.” Her eyes turned to him and he was conscious again of the powers that burned in her. You had to be standing in a far off place not to be scorched by her gaze. “You have come close, Feather in the Wind, to say that to me.”
“Close, yes, but only as close as you let me.”
“So what do you suggest?”
“That we recreate your early times together with the one you call Ambra. The walking, eating, touching gestures of love. The acts of love that can bring love itself in their train.”
“For how long?” she asked, glancing at the mountain of papers on her desk, at the twin telephones whose insistent demands were being briefly held at bay by Karl and Francine.
“For as long as it takes. As long as you feel able to give and she can tolerate.”
“What about your time?”
“I am here,” he promised. “I will not leave until you ask me to or I see no point in trying further.”
“How long then?”
“A week maybe, or a month. Not all day, but every day a short while, the whole of your attention.”
“It will be hard.”
“I know that.”
“Feather, you have persuaded me to try.”
“And you’ll be there yourself?”
“Tell me, do you know Shakespeare’s play Twelfth Night?”
“Not well, no,” he admitted. “We concentrated on the French dramatists at my school.”
“Well, there is a scene in it where a woman called Viola says these words: ‘Build me a willow cabin at your gate, and call upon my soul within the house . . .’
“And does she build one?” he asked.
“In a way.”
“Well, I will need no willow cabin, at least. The room they have given me is as good as any can be in a place that is not home. But I will only stay if you want me.”
“Yes, I do. We both do.”
So they began, as a trio, to rebuild the feeling between Cody and her dog. As he had expected, Cody found it very hard work. She came to their sessions desperately tired from her other commitments. She never once spoke to him about her work but he was aware that she wrestled daily with vast, intractable decisions: to war or truce, to feed or let starve, to lie or tell the truth. The world lay under her hand, a giant chessboard, where every move potentially led to mate. Watcher made rapid progress, glad to be in Cody’s company without any other humans except Feather. He did not think the dog was jealous of Francine or others in the near pack, but their presence had, in the past, made it less likely that Cody would pay attention to her dog. And when things had begun going wrong, there had never been a whole hour when they were alone together and Cody was sufficiently awake to notice how Watcher was. He got them to sit together, very close, nestled in a heap of cushions on the big, soft sofa in Cody’s suite. By hugging both of them at once, he encouraged them to relax together and join him in the deep breathing exercises he found a valuable start to meditation. Those were good hours. Cody visibly benefited from the stress free atmosphere. She got into the way of shedding her worries at the door as if she were a Japanese woman slipping off her outer shoes.
Perhaps it had been inevitable that things would move on. Feather didn’t know. One evening he was hugging the two females when Watcher fell asleep. His eyes met Cody’s over the golden head and they kissed. It was rare for him to make love to a client, male or female, but not unprecedented. Yet his desire for her was clouded by an atmosphere of risk and uncertainty that had been absent from any of his previous relationships.
“You’re trembling,” she murmured, drawing her palm gently up and down the smooth, dark skin of his left arm.
“Yes, you have that effect on me.”
“Partly desire,” he answered, pulling strands of her hair slowly through his fingers, “partly the power you wield. It is dangerous to know you, impossible to walk away.”
“So you tremble?”
“Yes, but I accept that. As part of the whole experience of making love to you, it’s a very small price to pay.”
At some point in the night, Watcher woke and found her way to their bed where she promptly fell asleep again. But the next day, after Cody had left and he shared breakfast with Watcher, he asked the Labrador if she minded him making love to her partner.
“No. I can share her with you because she lets me share you with her.”
He yelped with laughter at that and tugged Watcher’s ears which she adored.
That afternoon, when Cody had some free time, she rang to ask if he would visit her room. Feather had been meditating, and the telephone call broke into the calm he was trying to re-establish. It left him feeling very tired and stressed and he was poor company. But he went to her bed again that night, conscious of his passion for her as if it were a dragon he needed to talk to and bring under his guidance. They lay next to each other after making love, the firelight flickering on his slim, dark body and her older, tawny one, and touching the alert eyes of Watcher. None of them made a sound, yet each was achingly conscious of the other two in the room.
At last Watcher spoke to him. “Feather. Will you tell her something for me? Will you tell her that I’m better now? I can look after her with love again. She need not keep you here, away from your hills, on my account.”
Feather sighed, wondering if it was not already too late for their story to have such a simple ending.
“What did she say?” asked Cody, who by now could generally tell when he was communicating with Watcher.
“She thinks that she is cured of grief, that I could be free to go home.”
“I see.” Cody set her lips together and turned away, but he knew that tears besieged her eyes. The strain of years in office, never weeping, never admitting to hurt, were coming to the surface in this relationship. He was glad, for perhaps the first time, that he did not have the same close mind link with his own kind as he did with dogs and other non-humans. It would have made this moment far, far worse.
“And you want to go?” she whispered, to the dying light of the fire and the dark, half-hidden curves of his face and shoulders.
“I want to go,” he admitted, giving her the truth, yet not all the truth.
“You know how I shall miss you,” she said, fierceness struggling to overcome her respect for his independence.
“I know that, Cody. But it could not be more than I shall miss you.”
“Then why go?”
“Because that is my life and my place, and this is yours, the task that you have chosen and do so well. It may be weak but I cannot make myself live here in Washington. The claustrophobia would kill me, slowly but surely. And you do not have a choice, either, do you?”
“No. But will I ever see you again?”
“If you want to.”
“And Watcher?” It was the first time he had heard her use the name which the Labrador herself used.
“Of course, Watcher too. Why not visit me, next time?” he urged, clasping her hand to communicate his longing. “Come, both of you, and see where I live.” He was gone the next day, at first light. His departure left them shaken even though they both understood why he had to leave. That night, Watcher and Cody slept side by side, united by their unsatisfied need for his company but, as the days passed, the new bond that Feather had helped them build proved itself a positive thing. Cody found a real relief in unwinding after difficult meetings by going for a walk with Watcher or enjoying a lazy cuddle on the sofa. Eventually there was a clear weekend in the President’s schedule and she decided to visit Feather.
As the plane taxied towards the runway, she should have been feeling wonderful, but the exhaustion of finishing off last minute work had left her with a grinding headache. After takeoff, Francine passed her some pain-killers but the headache was slow to disappear. Gradually they gained altitude, the complexities of Washington resolving themselves into daisy chains of pulsating light. Cody lay back in her seat, her eyes half-closed and tried to relax. It was very stuffy in the cabin. Watcher had stretched out in a favourite position, across Cody’s feet. The Labrador’s body felt hot and heavy, and Cody felt a surprising urge to push the dog away, but resisted it for fear of hurting Watcher’s feelings.
Watcher noticed the repressed movement of Cody’s leg muscles and looked up at her partner carefully. What is the matter, she wondered. Cody is tired, but then we are both tired. Neither of us slept well last night. That is no reason for her to want to push me away. Could it be her fear of flying, which Feather told me of? But she has decided that, in order to see him, this flying thing will be acceptable. Maybe, while she has him, there will be no need for my love? No, that is the mistake I made before. There is always a need for love. That is what he taught me. If someone does not show it, they are either unhappy or sick. And she would not be unhappy, not this morning. So . . . Not that again! Let it be something else, something small, so that I do not need to call for help. If I alert her near pack, they will be all over her swiftly. I might be wrong and it would ruin her time alone with him. And my time, too. This chance might never come again.
Pushing herself into a standing position, she nosed at Cody’s hands. One broad, freckled hand gave her ears a brief caress, but was almost immediately withdrawn, passing in front of Cody’s face as if an insect troubled her. The index finger twitched, out of harmony with the rest of the hand. All along Watcher’s spine, tiny golden hackles rose and she shivered. Her nose sifted the air for that trace of scent which was wrong, the one she had never given a name to. Was it there? Among the many crowded fragrances of people and closed space and oil, it was hard to be sure. She whined softly but even Francine, who was sitting closer than the others, did not seem to notice.
Watcher tried once more to thrust her nose under Cody’s hand. Help me Cody, she pleaded with her mind, as if she were talking to Feather. Help me to spare you this trouble! Then we can both run free on the hills beside our friend. The wind will greet us, a few raindrops mixed in it to freshen our eyes. The grass will bend double under our paws so that we really feel ourselves to be on solid ground, not floating in a stranger’s den above the clouds. Help me!
But there was no response. Moments were rushing by. The beloved face was greyer now. At Cody’s temple, the little pulse had started pounding faster than it should. No time left to be unsure! Watcher lifted her right front paw, bringing it sharply into contact with the collar around her neck, and winced as the human world erupted into noise and movement around her.