Home > It Started with a Dog (Lucky Dog #2)

It Started with a Dog (Lucky Dog #2)
Author: Julia London

 

A Mardi Gras Festival in Austin


   Winter rains that have pummeled Austin finally clear to reveal azure blue skies. It is Mardi Gras, and a cool breeze wafts down Congress Avenue. It’s been a long day of parades and parties, but the diehard revelers aren’t leaving before the crowning event.

   The star of the show appears at the entrance to the cordoned-off street between two men assigned to escort her. She doesn’t walk, she glides. She’s had a blowout, and her flaxen hair lifts on the breeze, a streamer of silk. She is calm. She’s in no rush. Why should she be? Look at all these people who have come here to see her, from all corners of town, from as far away as San Antonio and Dallas and Houston. They have come to celebrate her rapid rise to the top.

   She doesn’t look right or left, but straight ahead. She seems almost bored, as if she’s seen so many crowds in her life that she can’t be bothered to be awed by another one.

   She is one cool cucumber.

   She is simply the best.

   She has stolen all their hearts.

   The onlookers part like the Red Sea as she moves down the avenue on her way to the stage. Some of them have kids on their shoulders who point and shout with delight. Some have dogs on leashes who search the ground for dropped food or strain at their tethers, eager to meet and greet. Some of the onlookers have drinks in hand, or giant globs of cotton candy. Some of them have even set up camping chairs as if they think this might take a while.

   The men escort the star onto a stage where a young woman waits, almost levitating with excitement. She has a colorful tattoo sleeve on one arm and has arranged her hair into a curious array of four haphazard buns around her head. She is wearing shorts sheared so short that the crowd can see all of London and all of France.

   The star steps gracefully over the wires and cables left behind by the band that will return to the stage to close things out. She elegantly takes her place atop the dais.

   Four Bun girl bounces to the front of the stage. She turns a grin to the star one last time before facing the crowd. She leans into the mic. “Can you hear me?”

   The crowd roars in the affirmative.

   “I am so excited to be here today! It is my very great pleasure to introduce you to Sheeba!”

   Sheeba, Sheeba! The crowd chants. Someone throws a tennis ball on the stage.

   Sheeba gives it a disdainful look but does not move from the dais. She stares straight ahead, her nose tilted upward, as if she is sniffing her own rarified air.

   “On behalf of the Austin Canine Coalition and our participating sponsors, H-E-B, the Austin American-Statesman, and Covert Ford, I am so pleased to introduce you to the winner of the Annual Mardi Gras King Mutt competition!”

   The crowd goes wild. Sheeba’s ears flatten. Four Buns whips around, clapping enthusiastically in the dog’s direction. Sheeba stares at Four Buns blankly.

   Good girl, good girl, the crowd begins to chant. Sheeba lifts her back leg and scratches her ear.

   “Thank you, Austin!” Four Buns shouts into the mic. “Sixteen dogs entered our annual King Mutt and raised a collective sixty-two thousand dollars for local animal rescue organizations!”

   Sheeba yawns, then slides ever so gracefully down onto her belly, one paw crossed beguilingly over the other.

   “Thank you for participating! And now, the crown!” Four Buns picks up a plastic gold crown with purple bobbles on the points. She tries to settle the crown on Sheeba’s head, but the Afghan hound’s head is too narrow and long. “That’s weird,” Four Buns says to one of the handlers. “It’s supposed to fit.”

   “Yeah, I think they had to get a new one after the Lab chewed it up last year.”

   Four Buns vaguely remembers it. She has to use some of Sheeba’s mane to anchor it, but she manages to perch the crown on the dog’s head.

   Sheeba, Sheeba, Sheeba! the crowd thunders.

   Sheeba thumps her tail once or twice on the dais in acknowledgment of their adoration. Four Buns returns to the mic. “Planning is already underway for next year,” she announces. “We hope to expand beyond the Mardi Gras business crawl so that we can add more dogs to compete for the coveted crown of the Most Popular Rescue Dog in Austin!”

   Sheeba lowers her head, pillowing it on her paws, and with a long sigh, closes her eyes.

   The crowd applauds enthusiastically.

   “One hundred percent of the proceeds will go to support the Austin Canine Coalition, so please remember to vote with your dollars next year.”

   Sheeba rolls onto her side. The crown falls off her head and rolls off the stage. Somewhere, the Steve Martin song “King Tut” begins to play, and dogs up and down the street begin to bark.

 

 

One


   Ten months later

   This shared ride had the distinct vibe of a horror movie, and Harper should know, because she had seen practically every horror movie ever made. Girl enters dark interior of nondescript van. Girl is smashed up against a guy with an uncompromising manspread, only slightly preferable to the other guy with the guitar case wedged between his legs. Girl is barked at by dog in pet carrier in front seat, held by a woman with a shower cap on her head. Girl is confused by driver, who is chatting like rain isn’t coming down in torrents, like he can see just fine out the front windshield when they all know he can’t, like it’s a good idea to keep looking in the rearview mirror to gauge the effect of his speech on the passengers in back when road conditions are treacherous. Eyes on the road!

   The only thing missing from this scene was the alien creature that should be splatting on the windshield any minute now.

   This was a Rain Event to be sure, coming very inconveniently on the eve of Christmas Eve, which, Harper’s driver informed them, was the busiest travel day of the year. She wished she’d known that before she’d purchased her ticket home for the holidays. She’d meant to leave a day or two earlier, but as usual, her boss, Soren Wilder (yes, his real name), threw some stuff at her last minute. And as usual, she didn’t say no. Harper Thompson didn’t turn away from a challenge, no matter how small or inconsiderate.

   Plus, she’d wanted to pay a visit to Bob. Bob was old and crotchety and didn’t have many friends, and she couldn’t bear to think of him alone for the holidays. So she’d gone round to see him one last time, like she did every Saturday, and he’d sighed and looked away, and then she’d snagged what was possibly the last ticket out of town. On the Megabus, no less, a monstrosity of steel and rubber and cushy seats and decent Wi-Fi that would whisk her the three and some-odd hours to Houston.

   Predictably, because it was raining, it stood to follow that she’d had to wait on a street corner for the Lyft van to inch toward her in the crazy traffic. Her cheap umbrella had turned inside out on the first strong gust of wind. When the van pulled up, she’d stepped off the curb and into a river of gutter water that filled her bootie. She’d had to stuff her suitcase into the back hatch with the other bags. And now she was squeezed between the van door and a large man, and rain was still trickling down her back and she was pretty sure she was not going to make her bus.

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