When John and Carter returned from their fruitless search, the Truman’s children were back from school. Stephen, nine, and Penny, seven, ran to their father and both asked the obvious but unnecessary question: “Did you find her?”
“”Carter took me straight to the visitors’ car park. He was following her trail, I’m sure of it. Then he stopped and didn’t seem to have an idea where to look. So we searched the forest, moving out in every wider circles but there was no sign of her.”
“We’ll look,” said Stephen immediately.
“We have to find her,” added Penny. “She could be hurt.”
“Or just lost,” suggested Stephen hopefully.
“No,” said their mother firmly. “I’m not having you wandering around the forest on your own. I’m sure Jadie will find her way back. We’ll let the police know she’s missing and we’ll put up notices everywhere if she’s not back by this evening.
John was tired and willingly accepted Sally’s offer of a cup of tea. The children began to draft a notice which they planned to pin to every tree in the forest.
At about 5 o’clock the telephone rang. Sally answered the call. A distorted voice said:
“If you want to see you dog ever again, put Jade’s details on the LostPetSearch website. Put up one photo and say you will pay a generous reward for the safe return of your dog. Draw out £3,000 in cash (used £20 notes). A really nice man will phone the day after Jade’s entry appears. He will tell you he has found your dog. You will offer a reward of £3,000 and confirm you have the money. The man will collect the generous reward and return the dog. If you don’t co-operate, we will kill the dog. If you contact the police, we will kill the dog. You will not hear from anyone again unless you obey these instructions.”
Sally turned pale. For a minute after the caller had disconnected, she continued to hold the receiver in her shaking hand.
“What’s the matter?” John asked.
“He said if we wanted to see Jade again we must pay £3,000.”
“What?” John was incredulous. “Who said? What did he say? Was he an official? You must have misheard the £3,000.”
“I don’t know who it was. He didn’t say but I know what he said. He said we had to place a notice on a website, offering a generous reward for the return of Jade. If we put up the notice, some man will phone again to confirm we have the money. We must give the man the money in used £20s. If we co-operate we will get Jade back. If we don’t, they will kill her.”
Penny burst into tears.
“You can’t be right,” said John. “What are you saying? We’re being blackmailed for the return of our dog. And they want £3,000.”
“That’s what it sounds like,” Sally agreed.
“I’m phoning the police,” said John.
“Oh I forgot,” said Sally urgently. “He said if we contact the police they will kill Jadie.”
More tears from Penny.
“I’m still going to phone the police,” said John firmly.
“They’ll kill Jadie”, blubbered Penny, with tears streaming from her pale blue eyes.
“Let’s talk about this when the children have gone to bed,” said Sally. And then she said to the children: “You’re not to worry. Mummy and daddy will sort this out.”.
Later that evening, when the children had finally dropped off to sleep after much comforting and reassurance, John and Sally talked.
“I still think I should call the police,” John started.
“I’m not sure that will do any good, “ said Sally, “and it could do some real harm. After all, what can we tell them? We had a phone call. I can’t prove what was said. I don’t know who it was..”
“The police could trace the call,” John countered.
“The caller seemed pretty well-organised,” said Sally. “He knew exactly what he wanted to say; he’d disguised his voice; he seemed pretty sure of himself. He didn’t sound like someone who would make it easy to trace the call. So all we could tell the police is that Jadie has disappeared and we had a phone call. Given the police generally don’t do much even if you’ve been burgled, I can’t see them sending out the cavalry over what they would probably say was a prank call. And that’s assuming they believed me at all.”
“Well what do you suggest we do?” asked John. “We can’t pay £3,000. £3,000 is a lot of money and I’ve just lost my job. We’re already talking about asking your parents for help with the mortgage, help which they can ill afford. We can’t give £3,000 away while we’re going to them with a begging bowl.”
“We’re not going to them with a begging bowl,” said Sally, stung by John’s remark. “We haven’t asked them for anything yet. You’ll get a job; and I can get a job.”
“OK,” said John. “Don’t get upset. Of course we will find a way. But I don’t see how we can or should hand over £3,000 of our savings or what we earn or what we borrow to a bunch of criminals.” John was very fond of Jadie but £3,000 was a lot of money, money they didn’t have. .He was about to add: “After all, it’s only a dog” but he decided it was better to keep that thought to himself.
Carter had listened attentively to both the conversation when the children were present and the conversation between John and Sally later in the evening. He was deeply upset by Jade’s disappearance. Now he was still more deeply troubled. He didn’t fully understand all the details . Loss of job. Blackmail. Shortage of money. Need to borrow. Killing Jadie. Obviously, these were all connected but exactly how was unclear.
What was certain was the need for decisive, super-canine action. Carter asked to be let out into the back garden. The night was cold, the sky ink black. A sickle moon hung in the sky to the east. Carter made his way to the back fence, stood on his hind legs and looked into the deepness of the forest. There was no movement. He dropped back onto all fours. Then he lifted his head and emitted a long, hopeless howl.
Luke and the Storyteller.
“I think you’re doing this on purpose,” said Luke.
“Doing what?” enquired the Storyteller innocently.
“This is supposed to be a short story - yes? So how is it that you’ve used more than 6,000 words on the introduction and so far, apart from my conversations with you, I haven’t even had a mention? I mean I am the hero of the story. If anything needed a full introduction, it was me. I’m the part of the story readers are going to find it most hard to believe.”
“Leave the issue of credibility to me,” soothed the Storyteller.
“I’m not sure I can,” said Luke, his fur showing signs of ruffling. “I mean, you haven’t even mentioned the Fourth Beginning. Unless readers know something about the quest, the interview with God, the journey to meet Prometheus in the Caucasus, the witnessing of the creation of the universe, the birth of life and the emergence of human consciousness and, above all, the crucial part I played in many of these events and how I, more than any of the other questors, was permanently empowered by the Fourth Beginning, they’re unlikely to believe I can communicate precisely with both dogs and men, much less that I can read the minds of men, enhance the intellect and senses of other dogs and alter perceptions of reality.” Luke paused, exhausted by constructing what was after all a magnificently long and yet at the same time highly compressed sentence.
“Storytelling doesn’t work like that,” said the Storyteller. “We don’t need to prove what you can do by recounting past adventures. Readers will believe what you can do if you do it and I tell it. That’s what I do. I weave what you do into a story with a beginning, a middle and an end. If you do what you say you can do and I tell a story that obeys the rules of storytelling, the story will be true and will be believed.”
Luke was unconvinced but he knew there was no arguing with the Storyteller. “Well, at least get on with it.”
The Storyteller resumes
You believe in evolution. We all believe in evolution. Well almost all. There are a few who prefer to deny the evidence and, if you’re one of them, don’t despair, you can still stay with the story. After all, if you believe the universe was created 6,000 years ago, you’ll believe anything.
No, I’m addressing myself to the vast majority of my readers who are well-balanced reasonable individuals; i.e. you.. You believe in evolution. Good. So when I tell you that Luke, the Golden Retriever who lived with the Smith family in Harrow, a suburb of London, heard Carter’s howl in a garden adjacent to the New Forest in Hampshire, you won’t close the book and shut your minds. You will at least consider the possibility that the aforementioned Luke who, as you know, was an extraordinary dog, had evolved telepathic powers.
Carter’s concern for the safety of Jade, compounded with the anguish of his master, his mistress and their children, expressed in that long, hopeless howl, pinged into Luke’s mind like a pin driven by a staple gun. Luke responded by asking Carter what was wrong, what was so wrong that he had called out for help across all of Hampshire and half of London.
Carter stopped his howl and looked around the garden. John, who thought he had heard something, opened the back door and looked out. All was quiet so he shut the door. Carter stood still. Then Luke asked him again why he was so upset.
Carter could have queried where the strange but pellucidly clear voice came from, but he didn’t. There was no need. The voice, not his, was in his head. It was communication without any need for the medium of space to transport the message from sender to receiver.
“My house companion Jadie has disappeared,” was the answer Carter gave. “She set out into the forest several hours ago and has not returned. I searched the forest with my master but the scent trail ended abruptly in a visitor’s car park. Then later, my mistress received a phone call. The caller demanded money for the return of Jadie. A lot of money.”
“You mean a ransom? You mean Jade has been kidnapped and the kidnappers want a ransom?”
“I guess so,” Carter responded. He wasn’t familiar with the terms ‘kidnapping’ and ‘ransom’ but the voice seemed to have grasped the situation.
“Do you know where the kidnappers, or should I say dog-nappers, have taken Jadie?” Luke asked.
“No, of course I don’t know. If I knew, I would have set off to rescue her hours ago,”
Luke chuckled in Carter’s head. “Calm down. We need a plan.”
“We?” queried Carter. “Who are you? How is it I hear you in my head but I can’t see you anywhere in the garden? Can you help me to find Jadie? Will you help?”
“I am Luke, a Golden retriever, living in Harrow which is in north London but don’t worry about that. I have special powers but there’s no point in me telling you what they are or how I got them. It’s much easier to demonstrate. For example, I could tell you I have highly developed telepathic powers but you are probably no more familiar with telepathy than with kidnapping. So the easiest way for me to explain is simply to use my powers. That way, one by one, you will find out what I can do and I will have to demonstrate my powers only when they are actually useful.
“I guess you’re an especially clever dog,” hazarded Carter.
“I guess so,” Luke conceded. There was no point in denying it.
“And will you help me?” Carter persisted.
“Of course I will help you. We dogs must stick together. When I heard that howl, I knew I was needed. And, as you will find out, I can be a real help.”
Carter gave a sigh of relief. He was determined to find Jade and save her but he was worried he might fail. He had no idea where the kidnappers had taken her. And the family, John and Sally, and the children, seemed to be helpless and confused. John was upset about losing his job and the demand for a ransom seemed like one trouble too many for his master. In any case, it was such a relief to talk dog, the language of dogs. He understood human pretty well, although generally they used far more words than were necessary. But to be able to discuss the problem in dog with another dog, albeit a disembodied dog living somewhere in Harrow, was a blessing.
“Strictly speaking,” Luke interrupted Carter’s thoughts, “I’m not disembodied in Harrow. I am in fact fully bodied in Harrow. I just seem to be disembodied to you in the New Forest, mainly because my body is with me in north London.”
“So you can read my thoughts,” observed Carter shrewdly.
“That too,” said Luke modestly.