I hard the voice of the LORD saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?” Then I said, “Here am I. Send me!”
The advertisement for the school newspaper read, “Help Change A Life – Become A Camp Counselor!” Normally she just looked at it for size and shape to find a spot for it on the page, but this time Caitlyn actually read it. The subtitle said, “Help Lead Week-Long Back to Nature Camp for Inner-City 6 and 7 Year Olds.” She didn’t care that much about children, but doing it would look good to colleges. With that plus the newspaper and her pretty decent grades, maybe she’d have a shot at a scholarship at some out-of-state school. Then she saw at the date: October 26 through 30. Yuck. Glancing out the window, she shuddered. That would be cold and miserable, a week in a cabin, probably in the rain, with a bunch of screaming little kids. Hard to imagine a worse torture, really.
“Hey, are you doing the nature camp thing?” Kim asked, her voice chipper and bright as always. Caitlyn scowled.
“No. It sounds lame.” Finding a spot for it, Caitlyn reached placed the advertisement in its new home. “Can you hand me the article on graffiti in the bathrooms?”
Passing the snippet over, Kim said, “I’m doing it. The camp counselor thing, I mean. I thought it sounded like fun. Maybe be able to help some less-fortunate kids.”
“Oh.” Now Caitlyn felt stupid. Who was she to think Kim Benson was doing something lame? Kim Benson set the standard for cool at Somewheresville High School. “I don’t think it’s all underprivileged kids, you know. Look at the fine print.”
Kim scrutinized where Caitlyn’s accusatory finger pointed, the 10-point font at the bottom of the page. It read, “Includes children from within all of Somewheresville’s municipal borders.” “See?” Caitlyn said. “That includes all the really swanky parts of town, too. I bet Stephen Gilbertson’s kids could even go.”
To Caitlyn’s frustration, Kim merely said, “Huh. Well, I guess if they wanted to go to a nature camp, I don’t see why not.”
In the back room of a posh downtown restaurant, Stephen Gilbertson leaned back in his deep leather chair and exhaled a stream of cigar smoke. Being a US Senator had its advantages, one of which was being feted by local businessmen on the rare occasions he was actually in the town he called home for political purposes. Oh, Somewheresville had its charms, and it was a nice, safe place for Vanessa to grow up, but it couldn’t hold a candle to Washington, DC, New York City, or Los Angeles. Gilbertson was a man of the world, and he knew where business really happened: In smoke-filled back rooms like this, with gentlemen like George Benson, here, expressing his concerns and finding solutions that satisfied both parties.
“So, George, you’re concerned that the bill coming up in the Human Welfare Subcommittee (which, as you know, I chair) regarding tax breaks for pet owners is going to have a negative impact on Rodent Suppliers International?”
Benson leaned forward and dipped his beef into the bubbling cheese sauce. “The American people love their pets, Stephen.” He took a big bite of the lightly-cooked beef. Blood dribbled down his chin, and he delicately dabbed it away with a linen napkin. “Now they’ve heard about it, Americans are going to be clamoring for their pet-related tax breaks. My question for you, Stephen, is: What about small pet owners? This bill really just emphasizes the inequality in pet ownership. Owners of gerbils – and, of course, other rodents; hamsters, mice, rats, rabbits, etc. – will naturally want a tax break for their gerbils, too.”
Gilbertson shook his head regretfully as he took another drag on the cigar. “This pet tax break already borders on ridiculous, George.” Setting the cigar aside, he, too, dipped his steak into the liquid cheese. “I’m afraid there’s no way we could include rodents in the bill. It really is out of the question.”
Assuming a serious look, Benson sipped his red? wine. Delicious vintage, perfectly offsetting the beef and cheese flavors. When he had savored the wine thoroughly, he swallowed and said, “In that case, Stephen, may I suggest that the American people are, frankly, unlikely find the bill acceptable at all? Your constituents like tax breaks as much as the next fellow, of course, but they are likely to see this bill as frivolous and a waste of their representatives’ time. You yourself just described it as ridiculous.”
“I will, of course, have to consider this in light of all my constituents,” Gilbertson replied. He leaned back again, enjoying the dim, smoky, masculine atmosphere of the restaurant. Here one could almost forget this was back-woods Somewheresville, not London or New York City. “However, I find myself inclined to agree with your assessment. I suspect that the bill won’t get beyond the Human Welfare Subcommittee.”
Benson smiled, showing impossibly white teeth. “I’m very glad we could have this lunch, Senator,” he replied, “And I’m sure that your constituents’ best interest is, after all, also in the best interest of Rodent Suppliers International.”
Lottie looked over the counter at the toy poodle with excellently-hidden distaste. “And does Frou Frou need any special attention?” she asked as she opened the gate and accepted the silver chain leash from Mrs. Colville.
“Little Frooey is a model child,” Mrs. Colville replied. “All she needs is a snack every 15 minutes. Be sure to alternate the dry food” –she shook a baggie full of round brown pellets– “with the wet canned food,” –she indicated the stack of Canine Companion Adult Miniature Dog Gourmet Organic Beef-Flavored Dinner– “and then at lunch time mix some of the two together. Make sure the dry food gets thoroughly mixed, now, because Frooey sometimes has a difficult time with the small, hard pellets.”
Lottie jotted it all down. “OK, feed every 15 minutes, alternating dry and wet. Lunch is a mix and be sure the dry gets all the way mixed in.” She looked up. “Anything else?”
“Yes, now that I think of it, Frooey needs lunch precisely at noon or she starts to become faint. Then, after lunch, she takes a twenty-minute nap and then she needs a walk for her constitution. You’ll want to bring a baggie.” Mrs. Colville placed a shiny plastic cylinder on the counter, from which protruded the end of a very tiny plastic bag.
“Got it,” Lottie said, finishing the additional instructions. “Does Frou Frou need anything else?”
“Oh, my, I almost forgot. Frooey does not like larger dogs. She becomes positively belligerent around the beasts. Be sure to keep her separate from the big dogs.” Mrs. Colville’s tone indicated that, in her opinion, large dogs should all be exterminated, since they caused Frooey distress.
“No problem,” Lottie acknowledged. “We often let dogs of the same size play together; they seem to get along better that way.”
“Oh, goodness,” Mrs. Colville exclaimed. “Are all those other dogs healthy? My darling little Frooey has a very delicate constitution, and I should hate for her to catch ze sniffles.” This last, Lottie noted with disgust, was directed at the little dog itself, which necessitated switching to baby talk. Then her tone hardened. “Or fleas. I cannot abide fleas. Or ticks. None of the other dogs have such disgusting parasites, do they?
Lottie pulled herself together and replied in a brisk, professional tone, “We only accept dogs all up on their shots.” Seeing doubt on Mrs. Co
lville’s face, she added, “They’re all healthy. No sniffles, no fleas, no ticks, no parasites. They’re all 100% golden.”
“Goldens?” Mrs. Colville exclaimed in horror, “Frooey cannot abide golden retrievers! I was led to believe this was a doggie hotel for all breeds…”
“I’m sorry,” Lottie immediately apologized, forestalling Mrs. Colville’s motion to scoop all Frou Frou’s paraphernalia back into the diaper bag emblazoned with the initials “FFC.” “This isn’t just golden retrievers. When I said ‘100% golden,’ I meant that the dogs here are all perfectly healthy.”
“Oh,” said Mrs. Colville, “Well, then. I’m glad to hear it, because Frooey simply cannot abide golden retrievers, and we should simply have had to find a different facility.”
“Don’t worry, Mrs. Colville,” Lottie reassured her, feeling ready to strangle somebody, probably a small, fluffy toy poodle with that positively embarrassing haircut that poodle owners subject their dogs to for no apparent reason. “We will treat Frou Frou like the queen she is. She’ll have so much fun, she’ll hardly miss you.”
“Oh, my darling Frooey will pine, I am sure,” Mrs. Colville said, “But, you know, my husband will take business trips to the Grand Cayman Islands, and how could I pass up the opportunity?”
“You couldn’t,” Lottie agreed. “Now, if you don’t mind, I’ll just see about getting Frou Frou all settled in.”
“May I see the room?” Mrs. Colville asked, pushing in through the barrier. Lottie’s shoulders sagged. She had hoped Mrs. Colville would accept the implicit dismissal, but clearly the woman had other ideas. “Frooey needs a special mattress; she has a bad back – hereditary, you know – and it can’t be too high off the ground, because she also has bad hips – more genes; what can a person do? – and she will probably need to tinkle in the night, but then I trust somebody checks on the dogs periodically, so I’m sure that will be fine. And, of course, Frooey is afraid of the dark, so I brought her usual nightlight.” A dog-shaped nightlight appeared out of the voluminous diaper bag as if by magic. “Oh, and are the sheets 400 count Egyptian cotton? Because that’s what Frooey is used to, and I’m afraid anything else might chafe…”
Lottie closed her eyes briefly. This was going to be a difficult sell when Mrs. Colville realized that Frooey got a toy poodle-sized kennel with a fluffy pillow, rather than her own suite. “Um, Mrs. Colville,” Lottie said, “Maybe I can have you wait here a minute. I think I should have my manager show you around, to be sure the accommodations are suitable. He’s also the owner and can take any concerns or complaints you might have.”
Silently Lottie apologized to John for siccing Mrs. Colville on him, but this was really out of her hands. In a year of working at Happy Hounds Hotel, Doggie Daycare and Boarding, Lottie had met plenty of obsessive pet owners, but Mrs. Colville took obsession over her dog to a whole new level. The job paid well enough, and Lottie enjoyed playing with the dogs, taking them for walks, and caring for them, although cleaning out the kennels often stunk, literally. And, of course, this would make a fabulous story to tell tonight at the dinner table. Lottie could already imagine how Tristan would howl at Lottie’s impersonation of Mrs. Colville’s nasal, whining voice nattering about darling Frooey’s special needs. The benefits of working here far outweighed the costs, no question. It was definitely better than flipping burgers.