Watchers Page 51


At the house, as Travis opened the door, Einstein turned away from him, padded across the back porch, and stood at the top of the wooden steps, taking one final look around at the yard and at the peaceful, shadowed, soundless forest. Then, with a faint shiver, he followed Travis inside.

Throughout the inspection of the defenses during the afternoon, Einstein had been more affectionate than usual, rubbing against Travis's legs a great deal, nuzzling, seeking by one means or another to be petted or patted or scratched. That evening, as they watched television, then played a three-way game of Scrabble on the living-room floor, the dog continued to seek attention. He kept putting his head in Nora's lap, then in Travis's. He seemed as if he would be content to be stroked and have his ears gently scratched until next summer.

From the day of their first encounter in the Santa Ana foothills, Einstein had gone through spells of purely doggy behavior, when it was hard to believe that he was, in his own way, as intelligent as a man. Tonight, he was in one of those moods again. In spite of his cleverness at Scrabble-in which his score was second only to Nora's, and in which he took devilish pleasure forming words that made sly references to her as yet unnoticeable pregnancy- he was nonetheless, this night, more of a dog than not.

Nora and Travis chose to finish the evening with a little light reading- detective stories-but Einstein did not want them to bother inserting a book in his page-turning machine. Instead, he lay on the floor in front of Nora's armchair and went instantly to sleep.

“He still seems a little draggy,” she said to Travis.

“He ate all his dinner, though. And we did have a long day.”

The dog's breathing, as it slept, was normal, and Travis was not worried. Actually, he was feeling better about their future than he had for some time. The inspection of their defenses had given him renewed confidence in their preparations, and he believed they would be able to handle The Outsider when it arrived. And thanks to Garrison Dilworth's courage and dedication to their cause, the government had been stymied, perhaps for good, in its efforts to track them down. Nora was painting again with great enthusiasm, and Travis had decided to use his real-estate license, under the name of Samuel Hyatt, to go back to work once The Outsider had been destroyed. And if Einstein was still a little draggy . . . well, he was certainly more energetic than he had been for a while and was sure to be himself by tomorrow or the day after, at the latest.

That night, Travis slept without dreaming.

In the morning, he was up before Nora. By the time he showered and dressed, she was up, too. On her way into the shower, she kissed him, nibbled On his lip, and mumbled sleepy vows of love. Her eyes were puffy, and her hair was mussed, and her breath was sour, but he would have rushed her straight back into bed if she had not said, “Try me this afternoon, Romeo. Right now, the only lust in my heart is for a couple of eggs, bacon, toast, and coffee.”

He went downstairs and, starting in the living room, opened the interior shutters to let in the morning light. The sky looked as low and gray as it had been yesterday, and he would not be surprised if rain fell before twilight.

In the kitchen, he noticed that the pantry door was open, the light on. He looked in to see if Einstein was there, but the only sign of the dog was the message that he had spelled out sometime during the night.


Oh shit. Oh Jesus.

Travis stepped out of the pantry and shouted, “Einstein!”

No bark. No sound of padding feet.

The shutters still covered the kitchen windows, and most of the room was not illuminated by the glow from the pantry. Travis snapped on the lights.

Einstein was not there.

He ran into the den. The dog was not there, either.

Heart pounding almost painfully, Travis climbed the stairs two at a time, looked in the third bedroom that would one day be a nursery and then in the room that Nora used as a studio, but Einstein was not in either place, and he was not in the master bedroom, not even under the bed where Travis was desperate enough to check, and for a moment he could not figure out where in the hell the dog had gone, and he stood listening to Nora singing in the shower-she was oblivious of what was happening-and he started into the bathroom to tell her that something was wrong, horribly wrong, which was when he thought of the downstairs bath, so he ran out of the bedroom and along the hall and descended the stairs so fast he almost lost his balance, almost fell, and in the first-floor bath, between the kitchen and the den, he found what he most feared to find.

The bathroom stank. The dog, ever considerate, had vomited in the toilet but had not possessed the strength-or perhaps the clarity of mind-to flush. Einstein was lying on the bathroom floor, on his side. Travis knelt next to him. Einstein was still but not dead, not dead, because he was breathing; he inhaled and exhaled with a rasping noise. He tried to lift his head when Travis spoke to him, but he did not have the strength to move.

His eyes. Jesus, his eyes.

Ever so gently, Travis lifted the retriever's head and saw that those wonderfully expressive brown eyes were slightly milky. A watery yellow discharge oozed from the eyes; it had crusted in the golden fur. A similar sticky discharge bubbled in Einstein's nostrils.

Putting a hand on the retriever's neck, Travis felt a laboring and irregular heartbeat.

“No,” Travis said. “Oh, no, no. It's not going to be like this, boy. I'm not going to let it happen like this.”

He lowered the retriever's head to the floor, got up, turned toward the door-and Einstein whimpered almost inaudibly, as if to say that he did not want to be left alone.

“I'll be right back, right back,” Travis promised. “Just hold on, boy. I'll be right back.”

He ran to the stairs and climbed faster than before. Now, his heart was beating with such tremendous force that he felt as if it would tear loose of him. He was breathing too fast, hyperventilating.

In the master bathroom, Nora was just stepping out of the shower, na*ed and dripping.

Travis's words ran together in panic: “Get dressed quick we've got to get to the vet now for god's sake hurry.”

Shocked, she said, “What's happened?”

“Einstein! Hurry! I think he's dying.”

He grabbed a blanket off the bed, left Nora to dress, and hurried downstairs to the bathroom. The retriever's ragged breathing seemed to have gotten worse in just the minute that Travis had been away. He folded the blanket twice, to a fourth of its size, then eased the dog onto it.

Einstein made a pained sound, as if the movement hurt him.

Travis said, “Easy, easy. You'll be all right.”

At the door, Nora appeared, still buttoning her blouse, which was damp because she had not taken time to towel off before dressing. Her wet hair hung straight.

In a voice choked with emotion, she said, “Oh, fur face, no, no.” She wanted to stoop and touch the retriever, but there was no time to delay. Travis said, “Bring the pickup alongside the house.”

While Nora sprinted to the barn, Travis folded the blanket around Einstein as best he could, so only the retriever's head, tail, and hind legs protruded. Trying unsuccessfully not to elicit another whimper of pain, Travis lifted the dog in his arms and carried him out of the bathroom, across the kitchen, out of the house, pulling the door shut behind him but leaving it unlocked, not giving a damn about security right now.

The air was cold. Yesterday's calm was gone. Evergreens swayed, shivered, and there was something ominous in the way their bristling, needled branches pawed at the air. Other leafless trees raised black, bony arms toward the somber sky.

In the barn, Nora started the pickup. The engine roared. Travis cautiously descended the porch steps and went out to the driveway, walking as if he were carrying an armload of fragile antique china. The blustery wind stood Travis's hair straight up, flapped the loose ends of the blanket, and ruffled the fur on Einstein's exposed head, as if it were a wind with a malevolent consciousness, as if it wanted to tear the dog away from him.

Nora swung the pickup around, heading out, and stopped where Travis Waited She would drive.

It was true what they said: sometimes, in certain special moments of crisis, in times of great emotional tribulation, women are better able to bite the bullet and do what must be done than men often are. Sitting in the truck's passenger seat, cradling the blanket-wrapped dog in his arms, Travis was in no condition to drive. He was shaking badly, and he realized that he had been crying from the time he had found Einstein on the bathroom floor. He had seen difficult military service, and he had never panicked or been paralyzed with fear while on dangerous Delta Force operations, but this was different, this was Einstein, this was his child. If he had been required to drive, he'd probably have run straight into a tree, or off the road into a ditch. There were tears in Nora's eyes, too, but she didn't surrender to them. She bit her lip and drove as if she had been trained for stunt work in the movies. At the end of the dirt lane, they turned right, heading north on the twisty Pacific Coast Highway toward Carmel, where there was sure to be at least one veterinarian.

During the drive, Travis talked to Einstein, trying to soothe and encourage him. “Everything's going to be all right, just fine, it's not as bad as it seems, you'll be good as new.”

Einstein whimpered and struggled weakly in Travis's arms for a moment, and Travis knew what the dog was thinking. He was afraid that the vet would see the tattoo in his ear, would know what it meant, and would send him back to Banodyne.

“Don't you worry about that, fur face. Nobody's going to take you away from us. By God, they aren't. They'll have to walk through me first, and they aren't going to be able to do that, no way.”

“No way,” Nora agreed grimly.

But in the blanket, cradled against Travis's chest, Einstein trembled violently.

Travis remembered the lettered tiles on the pantry floor: FIDDLE


“Don't be afraid,” he pleaded with the dog. “Don't be afraid. There's no reason to be afraid.”

In spite of Travis's heartfelt assurances, Einstein shivered and was afraid- and Travis was afraid, too.


Stopping at an Arco service station on the outskirts of Carmel, Nora found the vet's address in a phone book and called him to be sure he was in. Dr. James Keene's office was on Dolores Avenue at the southern end of town. They pulled up in front of the place at a few minutes before nine.

Nora had been expecting a typically sterile-looking veterinary clinic and was surprised to find that Dr. Keene's offices were in his home, a quaint two-story Country English house of stone and plaster and exposed timbers with a roof that curved over the eaves.

As they hurried up the stone walk with Einstein, Dr. Keene opened the door before they reached it, as if he had been on the lookout for them. A sign indicated that the entrance to the surgery was around the side of the house, but the vet took them in at the front door. He was a tall, sorrowful-faced man with sallow skin and sad brown eyes, but his smile was warm, and his manner was gracious.

Closing the door, Dr. Keene said, “Bring him this way, please.”

He led them swiftly along a hallway with an oak parquet floor protected by a long, narrow oriental carpet. On the left, through an archway, lay a pleasantly furnished living room that actually looked lived-in, with footstools in front of the chairs, reading lamps, laden bookshelves, and crocheted afghans folded neatly and conveniently over the backs of some chairs for when the evenings were chilly. A dog stood just inside the archway, a black Labrador. It watched them solemnly, as if it understood the gravity of Einstein's condition, and it did not follow them.

At the rear of the large house, on the left side of the hail, the vet took them through a door into a clean white surgery. Lined along the walls were white-enameled and stainless-steel cabinets with glass fronts, which were filled with bottles of drugs, serums, tablets, capsules, and the many powdered ingredients needed to compound more exotic medicines.

Travis gently lowered Einstein onto an examination table and folded the blanket back from him.

Nora realized that she and Travis looked every bit as distraught as they would have if they'd been bringing a dying child to a doctor. Travis's eyes were red, and though he was not actively crying at the moment, he continually blew his nose. The moment she had parked the pickup in front of the house and had pulled on the hand brake, Nora had ceased to be able to repress her own tears. Now she stood on the other side of the examination table from Dr. Keene, with one arm around Travis, and she wept quietly.

The vet was apparently used to strong emotional reactions from pet owners, for he never once glanced curiously at Nora or Travis, never once indicated by any means that he found their anxiety and grief to be excessive.

Dr. Keene listened to the retriever's heart and lungs with a stethoscope, palpated his abdomen, examined his oozing eyes with an ophthalmoscope. Through those and several other procedures, Einstein remained limp, as if paralyzed. The only indications that the dog still clung to life were his faint whimpers and ragged breathing.

It's not as serious as it seems, Nora told herself as she blotted her eyes with a Kleenex.

Looking up from the dog, Dr. Keene said, “What's his name?”

“Einstein,” Travis said.

“How long have you owned him?”

“Only a few months.”

“Has he had his shots?”

“No,” Travis said. “Damn it, no.”

“Why not?”

“It's . . . complicated,” Travis said. “But there're reasons that shots couldn't be gotten for him.”

“No reason's good enough,” Keene said disapprovingly. “He's got no license, no shots. It's very irresponsible not to see that your dog is properly licensed and vaccinated.”

“I know,” Travis said miserably. “I know.”

“What's wrong with Einstein?” Nora said.

And she thought-hoped-prayed: It's not as serious as it seems.

Lightly stroking the retriever, Keene said, “He's got distemper.”

Einstein had been moved to a corner of the surgery, where he lay on a thick, dog-size foam mattress that was protected by a zippered plastic coverlet. To prevent him from moving around-if at any time he had the strength to move-he was tethered on a short leash to a ringbolt in the wall.

Dr. Keene had given the retriever an injection. “Antibiotics,” he explained. “No antibiotics are effective against distemper, but they're indicated to avoid secondary bacteriological infections.”

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