He gets up, pats a rack of muffins to make sure they're cool, and arranges them in the display case. On his way back, he stoops to scratch Ahab, who sighs, content.
As EJ takes his seat again, I swallow more coffee. “Can I ask you something?” I say.
“Where do you get your inspiration from?”
He grins. “Charlene and I were just discussing that. And the truth isâas flaky as this sounds, I'll admit it to youâdreams.”
“I dream of ingredients. So does Charlene. How weird is that?”
I roll my finger in the sugar on my beignet plate and suck it. “It's pretty weird, Eege.”
“I dream of ingredients that seem to have no logical relationship to one another. Like . . . I don't know, like cashews andâlemon zest or something. And then in the morning I write those two things down. And in the days and weeks that follow, out of the blue, I realize why I dreamed about them. I realize where they fit in. How they fit in. They don't always go together, but sometimes they do. So maybe you just need to pay attention to your dreams.”
“I don't think that's gonna work for me.” I rest my head on the table, and a tear slides across the bridge of my nose.
EJ's floury hand grips my forearm. “Zell?”
I don't answer.
“So I'm Finnish American,” he says.
I lift my head and nod. “I know. Everybody knows that.”
“Third generation. Both sides. My mother's last name was Haa-pajarvi. Her mother's last name was Hakkarainen. My grandfather and his brother built a sauna with their bare hands, on the shores of Malden Pond. Why am I telling you this?”
I sniff and shrug.
“Because you can learn some very important life lessons from a Finn,” he says.
“Like how to make glÃ¶gg?”
“GlÃ¶gg is Swedish.”
“Listen. A Finn never balks from a challenge.” He claps his hands, sending a puff of flour into the air.
I inhale the dust and cough.
“And you know what else a Finn never balks from?” He jabs a finger in my face. “Home Ec Bitches, the likes of Polly Pinch.”
I almost laugh through my tearsâalmost. EJ smiles and nods into his coffee cup. He raises a finger midswallow. “Before I forget, I wanted to give you these.” He pulls two patches, green and blue and yellow, from his cargo pocket.
They're official Midmass Footpath patches. I recognize them right away. “Did Arthur give you those?” I ask. Nick's dad always wanted to hike the Midmass with Nick. They talked about it for years, in fact. But they never got around to it.
I slide the patches into the back pocket of my pajama pants, even though I don't want them. “Thanks.”
“Mr. Roy says hello,” EJ says. “Maybe you should call him.”
I start to say no, because I haven't seen Arthur since the memorial service, and I just can't imagine talking to him now, but outside a car grinds into the parking lot.
“That'll be Travis, punctual as usual,” says EJ.
A moment later the moon-faced Travis appears in the doorway. An old-school winter Patriots hat bearing an angry minuteman in a three-point stance sits askew on his head. “Come check out this cat fight, hey,” he says.
EJ and I meet him at the door. EJ flicks on a spotlight that floods the parking lot, where Bedard's cat faces a sleek, black animal that appears half cat, half weasel. They don't react at all to the light or to us; they're consumed with each other.
“Weird-looking thing,” says Travis.
“It's a fisher,” I say. I know because Nick came home all excited once with photographs of a fisher. They're hard to photograph because they're reclusive, he said.
This fisher is lean and powerful, with a squarish head, a tail as thick as nautical rope, and claws so long I can make them out from here.
Bedard's cat hisses and yowls. The fisher swipes at the cat but misses.
“Damn,” says Travis. “That thing's nasty.” He sticks his fingers in his mouth and whistles. Both animals crouch and look at us. Cold air swirls inside the open door.
Ahab shoots from his dozing spot and gallops for the door, mouth open, eyes blazing.
!” I grapple after him. I leap and grab for his hind legs but hit the floor hard, arms empty.
Ahab is a black-and-white torpedo. He knocks aside Travis and EJ.
“What theâ,” says Travis, catching his balance. “Where'd the racin' dog come from? That dog's got
Ahab yelps when he hits the lot's jagged, frozen gravel. But he doesn't slow down. He's got two targets now and gallops full speed for them. Stones kick up behind him.
The fisher bolts, a black blur. It darts for the trees and scampers down the ravine at the end of the lot.
Bedard's cat ducks low. It cries and spits and swipes a paw. Then it, too, springs into the woods and disappears down the slope.
Ahab gathers speed.
“Cappy!” I sprint across the gravel. Footsteps sound behind meâEJ gives chase, too.
“I'm staying right the fuck here is what I'm doin',” Travis shouts. “Haven't you ever heard of cat scratch fever? That's a real thing, hey.”
Ahab pauses at the edge of the woods. He sniffs the air where, seconds ago, the cat stood. Cap'n's ears point tall. He's as still as one of Trudy's statues.
I slow to a walk, not wanting to startle him. EJ creeps up next to me, breathing hard.
“Ahab, cookie time!” I sing. I hope he'll turn to me, looking for a dog biscuit. “Cookie time; cookie time for you!”
The snow thickens. It looks like a thousand white-beaded curtains.
I'm five feet from Ahab. Four feet. I hear his teeth chatter. I see muscles quiver under his fur as snowflakes land there.
Three feet. I reach out my arm. “Cookie time, Cappy,” I whisper. My fingers are one foot from his rump. “Please.”
He looks over his shoulder and blinks his big brown eyes.
“Sorry, Zell,” I whisper. “But I'm a braver beast than that milksop, and I'll prove it. By the Almighty's balls, I'll prove it! Yarr!”
“Gotcha!” EJ leaps for Ahab but slips. He thuds to the ground with a groan. “Shit.”
Ahab scampers down the slope. I trot to the edge, but I can't see much. The crashing of frozen leaves and twigs fades away, fades to silence.
I'M SORRY,” Travis says as I follow EJ to the Muffinry van. “I didn't even know that thing was in here.”
“Just stay here and man the shop 'til I get back, Trav,” EJ says.
We drive all around town as the sun comes up. EJ leaves his window rolled down and calls for the Captain. His voice is pretty loud, even without his meaty hand cupped around his mouth.
He trolls slowly down Main Street a few times, which isn't a problem this time of day, because there aren't any cars. When he turns onto a side street, the glove compartment pops open, and an almost-empty bottle of cologne tumbles to the floor. The cologne was a Christmas present from me and Nick a few years ago; EJ always complained about the smell of muffins that seemed a permanent part of him. I shove the bottle in the glove compartment and slam it shut.
“I'm sorry, Zell,” EJ says. “I'm so sorry. Ahab's just so quiet. I totally forgot he was there.”
I start to say it's okay but stop when I feel my eyes well up.
Ahab will come back to me. Ahab will come back.
EJ returns to Main Street. We scan the trees between the nail salon and the video store, where a GOING OUT OF BUSINESS sign dominates the window.
“Nick sure did love that dog,” he says quietly.
I take a few jagged breaths as the tears spill over. I turn to the passenger window and press my forehead on the cold glass.
“Shit.” EJ rubs my back a little, but when I don't respond, he stops. “That was the wrong thing to say,” he says.
“It's just that I thought for sure we'd find him by now,” I say.
“Well, it's only been twenty minutes or so since we started driving around.”
“I know. But I thought we'd hop in the van and cruise around a little bit, and see him walking up the road. And he'd run up to us.”
“That could still happen. Let's give it a few more minutes.”
I wipe my eyes with the sleeve of my coat and notice Bedard's cat strolling down the sidewalk in front of Big Yum Donuts. “There's the cat,” I say.
“If I ever get my hands on that thing,” says EJ, which makes me smile just a little, in spite of everything, because EJ wouldn't hurt a flea in that cat's mangy fur. He pulls over, and the cat takes off down the sidewalk. EJ hops from the van and chases it, shaking his fist. “A-hole!” he yells.
I get out and walk in the opposite direction, calling, “Ahab! Ahab!” My nose is numb; my voice is hoarse. I trot down a side street, where little Cape Cod houses are closely set. I jog past a few driveways. I look all around, and my tear-stained face stings in the cold.
In one driveway a car runs. In another house the kitchen lights flick on, and I hear a radio announcer give a weather report. At the next driveway a man wearing a ski coat over his bathrobe stoops to pick up the daily. Old lift tickets flutter from his zipper as cold wind blows.
“Excuse me, have you seen a dog?” I ask. “Tall, skinny, black-and-white?”
“Sorry,” he says, his voice scratchy with sleep. He goes inside.
The Muffinry van creeps along beside me. The passenger door swings open. “Get in, Zell.” EJ pats the seat. “You'll find him, but just not right now. Come on. I'll take you home.”
I HAVE TO PEE SO BAD, I zip straight to the powder room. When all the coffee's out of me, I wash my hands, gazing at Ahab's likeness on the wall. Young, speeding Ahab. I blow my nose on a length of toilet paper and shudder a few teary sobs; I think I'm done crying, at least for now.
“Zell?” Garrett says through the wall. “Everything all right?”
There's a pause. Then he says, “I'll be right over.”
I meet him on the porch. He wears fake shearling slippers, and the hood of his BU sweatshirt is pulled up over his head. “What happened?” he asks.
And after I tell him, he offers to drive me around, just like EJ did.
I hesitate, feeling needy and pathetic. “Oh, don't worry about it,” I say. “I'll drive around by myself.”
“Two pairs of eyes are better than one,” he says. “I don't mind. Really.”
make me feel better,” I say. “But what about Ingrid?”
“She's still at Nature's Classroom.”
“Oh. Right.” I'd forgotten.
And a minute later I'm hopping into Garrett's truck. “I told work I'd be late,” he says.
We drive Ingrid style: heat cranked, windows down. At my suggestion we scour the high school campus first. We drive around all the buildings. We peruse every parking lot and circle the bleachers a couple of times. Next we troll the outskirts of town. We hang out the windows and call for Ahab every ten seconds or so. I sing the “Cookie Time” song; Garrett picks it up and belts it as he drives.
He takes Route 331 past Trudy's house. At the mountain he turns around and heads down Old Rutland Road, and we zigzag slowly along the turns. At the site of the accident Nick photographed on his last night in Wippamunk, someone erected a makeshift shrine: a white wooden cross that bears the name Dylan Mead and the date he died, the letters and numbers formed in black electrical tape. A small wreath of plastic flowers leans against the cross.
After about an hour and a half of searching, we head back. It's prime commuting time now, and the traffic is steadyâdirty cars and trucks speed along in slushy, sandy snow. We take our spot in the stream of traffic. Something is different about Main Street, something about the telephone poles.
“Can you stop a sec?” I say. Garrett puts his hazard lights on and pulls over, and I step onto the snowplowed sidewalk and approach a pole. At eye level is a sheet of paper featuring Ahab's likeness. I instantly recognize the photo: Ahab leans against the dented back bumper of Dennis's rattletrap of a car. Nick took the shot a few years ago, on a brilliant September day when I walked Ahab to the Wippamunker Building to meet Nick for lunch.
Garrett's at my side now. I smooth the paper against the splintering wood of the pole and read.
Missing greyhound. A black-and-white male answering to the names Captain Ahab and Ahab. The beloved pet of longtime
photographer Nicholas Roy, who died last year during an interfaith mission trip comprised of local churchgoers helping rebuild homes and churches in New Orleans. Anyone with information as to Captain Ahab's whereabouts should contact Ms. Rose-Ellen Roy of 111 High Street, Wippamunk, or Officer Frances Hogan at the station.
I glance up and down Main Street. Every third telephone pole sports eye-level pinups of Ahab.
“That was fast,” Garrett says. “That was
“Would you mind stopping at the police station?” I ask.
FRANCE SITS AT THE DISPATCHER'S DESK. Her black boots are propped up, her hands laced behind her head. A cup of yogurt waits next to a big olive green panel with all sorts of knobs and dials. She smiles sadly when I enter. “You like?” she yells through the bulletproof glass that separates the dispatcher's desk from the lobby. “Did you see them?”