When the third hearse driver mistakenly tried to drop off a corpse, Darwin knew he had to get his nephew’s Bichon, Huckleberry, to the groomers for a full cleaning. Aside from his ennui, Darwin had been putting it off because he didn’t want the little beast to taint the three-owner smell of his Subaru. But the stink in his apartment had become unbearable.
Darwin lay every towel he owned across the front seat of the car and set the dog on it. When he climbed in the driver’s seat and shut the door, he suddenly felt like Matt Damon on the Mars surface gasping for air, trying to get to the habitat before his oxygen completely depleted. The foul odor choked him, and he desperately grasped for the window switch, hoping he would get it in time before succumbing to oblivion from the overpowering stench.
The window came down, then the other three. Barely maintaining his consciousness, he put the car in reverse and pulled out of his slot, then hit the accelerator to get the breeze going through his car. Darwin nearly hit the kid who constantly roared through the lot in his Mustang as he flew out of the lot and slammed on the gas to get him up to speed on Copper Kettle Road. He stuck his head out of the window and finally got his first full lung of air.
After a few blocks he was able to pull his head back in. The dog started to rasp in an unnatural and alien way. He undoubtedly carried an extremely rare mutation that grew an actual chalkboard in his throat, along with human like fingernails to run across it, for he scratched that board with abandon.
“Shush, shush, shush, Huck,” said Darwin. To quiet him he spoke to him in soothing tones. “Don’t cry, little vermin, I’m only taking you far out into the woods where you’ll never find your way back. Think of the adventure. Ssssh. Stop whining. The pound I’m taking you to has four-star accommodations. The Korean family I’m giving you to is very nice—great cooks.”
Huckleberry would not be consoled, even when Darwin promised to take him to the zoo for an inside viewing of the lion cages. Darwin’s every nerve was frazzled when they arrived at the groomers. He let the dog out, then pulled out all the towels. He threw them in a trashcan next to the groomer’s entrance, and went in.
A plump girl with blonde curls and a baby-blue hoody met him at the counter.
“Hello,” she said.
“Hi,” said Darwin. “I’ve got a 9 o’clock appointment for Huckleberry.”
“Has he been here before?”
“Not sure.” Darwin gave her his nephew’s telephone number.
“Not in the system,” she said. “Do you have his veterinarian papers?”
“No. They didn’t ask for them when I called.”
“We’ve got to verify his rabies before we can take him. Can your nephew get them for you?”
Darwin shook his head. “I haven’t been able to contact my nephew for days. He’s bicycling across Nebraska.”
“That’s nice,” she said. “We can’t take him.”
Darwin’s jaw dropped. “I’m feeling a little peckish,” he said. “Is there a Korean restaurant nearby? Or Vietnamese?”