We’re back in the garden of the house in Burley, Hampshire.   Carter and Jade, boxer companions, are at the end of the garden.  Jade is thinking of hopping over the fence into the New Forest.

 

“What is the matter with you, Jadie?” asked Carter.  “We have everything we could possibly want here in the garden.   We have plenty of toys if we want to play; regular meals and human company all day long.”

 

“True,” Jade replied, “but all that’s here when I get back.  In the meantime, I can explore the unknown.”

 

“So what’s so special about the unknown?” asked Carter unconvinced.

 

“Well Carter, fairly obviously, I can’t tell you that,” said Jade.  “It’s unknown.

 

“I give up,” said Carter.  “You know we’re not allowed in the forest without our master or mistress.  One day you’ll go off into the forest and get lost, or you’ll catch your foot in a rabbit hole and break a leg.”

 

“Why don’t you come with me?” Jadie suggested.   “It would be more fun if we both went and, if I broke a leg, you could fetch help.”

 

“You’re daft,” said Carter.  “I’m telling you not to go and you immediately suggest it would be better if you went and I went with you.  I’m staying here, doing what I’m supposed to do.   Have you forgotten we have a job, patrolling the garden, making sure there are no intruders, keeping everything safe?”

 

“No, I haven’t forgotten.  But tell me, when was the last time we had an intruder?   When have we ever had an intruder?  All we do is bark at the postman and any other delivery men.  And what do they do?   Most of them just pat us on the head. You should loosen up.  Life’s too short to spend all your time doing the same, safe pointless thing.  Live a little.”

 

With that, Jade scrabbled up the fence at the back of the garden behind the vegetable patch, dropped down the other side and was off.

 

oooOooo

 

In a visitors’ car park, Crook was holding a pair of binoculars to his eyes and squinting through the windscreen of his van.  In order to keep up a strike rate of at least two dognappings a week, Crook had broadened the victim selection criteria quite considerably.

 

“Is there any chance you could give me another driving lesson?” asked Hook hopefully.

 

Crook ignored him.  ‘What’s the point,’ he thought.  ‘He’ll never pass the written exam.”

 

“You could take the written exam for me,” suggested Hook, as though he had read Crook’s mind.   Hook knew he wasn’t a natural driver.  He still found it difficult to master a manual gearbox.  But, with a few more lesson’s he’d be fine.

 

“Right, Righty,” he declared, “we’re on.” 

 

Hook was surprised by Crook’s enthusiastic response.  “So when can we do it?”

 

“Now,” responded Crook. “Target at 10 o’clock,” declared Crook.

 

Hook, confused, looked at his watch.  “In that case we’ve missed it.  It’s almost 11.00.”

 

“It’s the boxer, Jade,” explained Crook without a hint of irritation in his voice.

 

“I don’t think so,” said Hook.  “I’m not an expert on female boxers but, if she was any good, I’d have heard of her.  There’s a Jane I know of who’s in the rankings, but not a Jade.”

 

“It’s the boxer dog,” explained Crook, maintaining his equanimity but now with some difficulty.   “Over there, do you see?  The dog sniffing around that rabbit hole.   Her name’s Jade.  She belongs to a Mrs Truman who lives in a house on the edge of the common, not more than two or three hundred yards from here.   We need to grab her.”

 

“Are we kidnapping women now?” enquired Hook.  He had never really understood how Crook’s mind worked and this dog-grabbing scheme still seemed totally bizarre to him.  Of course, he had to concede the scheme was a success but why people handed over the money and why Crook was convinced they couldn’t get caught or punished was beyond him.  Kidnapping a person made a lot more sense.  She’d have a family and, with a bit of luck, they would pay real money to get her back.

 

“Not the woman, the dog,” said Crook with a forced chuckle.  “We need to take the dog.”

 

“Oh.” said Hook, clearly disappointed..

 

“Well, you’d better get on with it,” said Crook, handing Hook a plastic bag with a piece of raw steak in it and a choker lead.   Grab the dog, stick the mut in the cage in the back of the van and we’ll be off.”

 

Hook stepped out of the van and sauntered over to Jade who had lost interest in the rabbit hole and was now barking at the foot of a tall oak tree which had just provided a squirrel with an easy escape route.

 

“Here, dog,” said Hook, offering the meat.  Jade instinctively distrusted the hulking figure that was holding out the steak.  On the other hand, if you were routinely fed from those tins of obnoxious vegetables, synthetic protein and chemical flavourings with less than a hint of real meat, a piece of blood red steak had much to recommend it.   Carter would have been more wary, with caution outweighing appetite.   But Jade was not Carter.  As Jade took the meat, ‘Righty’ Hook slipped the choker over Jade’s head, and she was caught.   “Good dog,” said Hook, as Jade struggled to get free, dropping the steak.   But she was helpless.  The more she struggled, the tighter the lead around her neck became until she could scarcely breathe.   Before she passed out, she heard Carter’s words in her throbbing ears: “What’s so special about the unknown?”   She was about to find out that special didn’t necessarily mean good.

 

oooOooo

 

After Jade had climbed the fence and set off for her adventure in the New Forest, Carter had patrolled the garden for a while.   About midday, his mistress Sally had stepped out of the back door with a basket of damp washing.  Carter greeted her, rubbing against her legs as she .hung the washing on the line.

 

“Hello, Carter,” she said laughing: “you’re not really helping.”   Then she added: “Where’s Jadie?”

 

“Good question,” thought Carter.

 

“Oh well,” said Sally, “she’ll turn up.  She always does.  She’s probably lurking around the vegetable patch.”

 

By one o’clock, Carter was becoming uneasy.  It was about two hours since Jade had hopped over the fence.   She’d been away for longer than two hours once or twice before but this time seemed somehow different.

 

Just before two o’clock, Sally called the dogs in for dinner.  “Carter, Jadie, dinner.”

 

Carter quickly looked out over the fence at the back of the garden to see if Jade was anywhere in sight.  There was no sign of her.   Now he was worried.   It was not like Jade to miss a meal.

 

“Where’s Jadie?” Sally asked again when only Carter answered her summons.   

 

This time, Sally was concerned.  She went out the back door into the garden.  Carter went with her and led her to the back of the garden.   He then stood on his hind legs, put his front paws on the top of the fence and looked into the forest.

 

“Oh no,” said Sally.  “Don’t tell me she climbed the fence!”

 

There was no need for Carter to tell her anything.  There was no other explanation.  The back garden was enclosed.  There was no access to the street from the garden except though the house and the front door had been shut all morning.

 

“Well I hope she comes back soon,” said Sally to herself.  “Otherwise, we’ll have to go and look for her.”

 

“Jadie’s gone missing,” Sally said to John when he emerged from his study.  He had spent the morning, searching for jobs on the internet and calling friends and acquaintances in the hope of finding some good leads.

 

“What do you mean ‘gone missing’” John replied.  “She can’t have gone missing.  There’s nowhere for her to go.”

 

He had not had a good morning.  None of the jobs advertised paid as much as he had been earning.   That was a real problem.  Obviously less money would put a strain on their finances but it was worse than that.  Once you started to take a lower salary, you were on a downward slope. He’d seen it happen to friends.  Programing was a tough business.  As you got older, you became more expensive. Unless you were exceptionally good and your company was doing exceptionally well, you were vulnerable.   And once you accepted a job somewhere else at a lower salary, you were damaged goods.  It wasn’t fair because John knew he was a first class programmer, at least as good if not better than any replacement.  But the company was not doing so well and the temptation to cut costs by saving on his admittedly generous salary had proved irresistible.   The managing director had been terribly ‘nice’ about it. Very grateful for the contribution John had made over the years, first class employee, great prospects ahead of him – just not with Ingold Software.

 

“Well she’s not in the house and she’s not in the garden,” said Sally.

 

John sighed.  He really didn’t need this.  “Are you sure?” he asked pointlessly.

 

“I think she’s climbed the fence and gone off into the forest,” said Sally.  “You’ll have to go and look for her.”

 

He thought of remonstrating.  He thought of saying ‘Look.  I’m supposed to be looking for a job. I really don’t have time to go wandering around the New Forest trying to find a dog. Let’s face it, she’s nothing but a nuisance.  Why would she want to go for a wander in the forest when she’s living in dog heaven here?’    That’s what he thought of saying but in fact he said nothing.  Instead, he slipped into his jacket, put Carter on the lead and set out to search for the errant bitch.

 

oooOooo

 

Jade recovered consciousness with a clattering sound in her ears, a nasty smell of oil in her nose, and an unrelenting series of blows assaulting her body. She was being shaken around by the movement of the van and was bouncing against the bars of the cage which was itself sliding around the van’s floor.  Jade had never been caged before and it took her a few moments to realise there was no way out of the narrow confinement of her cramped prison cell.  

 

Jade, for all her bravado, was not the bravest of boxers.  She had always relied on Carter to back her up and to get her out of any scrapes that her impetuous nature led her into.  Carter would take a little time to assess a difficult situation, work out the best way to resolve a problem and then see it through to the end with stalwart indomitable determination.  So, many times Carter had saved Jade from herself.

 

Now there was no Carter, and Jade found herself in an entirely unfamiliar situation, powerless, at the mercy of those who had already treated her in a way she had never before experienced.  Yes, she was certainly exploring the unknown, but it was already clear this unknown was hostile and dangerous, vicious and spiteful.   As the precise nature of her predicament sank in, Jade did not struggle to break the bars; she did not bark; she did not even whimper.    She was so terrified that she was incapable of any response.  She was literally paralysed with fear.

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