Otters In Space 2 – Chapter 17: Earth

by Mary E. Lowd

An excerpt from Otters In Space 2: Jupiter, Deadly.  If you’d prefer, you can start with Chapter 1, return to the previous chapter, or skip ahead.

“My boss asked me to keep you out of his fur. As long as we’re at an ice cream parlor, out of his sight, I don’t think you’re bothering him.”

As usual, Trudith’s plans didn’t work out quite the way she expected.  Keith took her to his church, and he showed her where the senator usually sat.  However, instead of settling into a long discussion of the senator’s behavior at church, leading into a heart to heart about the senator’s intentions, all Trudith learned about was Keith.

She heard about all the times he got in trouble as a puppy for playing hide and seek in the pews; the way he and his littermates used to each pick a word and whoever picked the word that the pastor said most during Sunday’s sermon got to pick which kind of treat they’d stop for on the way home; and how he’d had a crush on an English Springer Spaniel girl who sat in the third pew and wore ribbons in her long, curly flopped ears, but he never got a chance to talk to her because her family moved away before he got up the courage.

“Do you know what I would’ve done if that Springer Spaniel girl had stayed in New LA for one more year?” Keith asked, leaning his long chin on the back of the pew in front of him.  His whole body looked doubled-up and far too long in these pews.  They were about the right size for Trudith, but Keith would’ve looked a lot more comfortable if they were just a little roomier.

“What would you have done?” Trudith asked, obligingly.  None of this conversation was getting her anywhere with respect to the job she was doing for Alistair, but it was making Keith happy.  She couldn’t help her fundamental nature:  she was a dog who lived to please.

“Same thing we’re going to do right now,” Keith said with a grin.

For a moment, Trudith thought he was leaning his muzzle toward her… for a kiss?  but she realized he was just trying to straighten out his folded up body and stand up.

“Come on,” he said.  “Let’s get out of this dusty church.  It’s time for an after church treat.”

The treat Keith picked was ice cream, and the two dogs got cones from an old-fashioned feeling ice cream parlor.  Keith selected the flavor of the week, bacon ripple, and Trudith went with her old standby, peanut butter.  They sat together at one of the parlor tables with their cones.  It was a warm day, so they had to eat fast to keep the cones from melting.

“I’m sorry,” Trudith told Keith when he asked her if she wanted to follow the ice cream up with a walk in a park.  “But this all feels like a distraction.”

“It is,” Keith said.  “My boss assigned me to distract you, since your boss told you to, uh, what is it you’re supposed to be doing?”

Trudith considered trying to explain her job in delicate terms, pussy-footing around the truth.  Instead, she said, “Spying.”

“Right.  So, what’s the big deal?” Keith said.  “We already talked about that.  We’re having a good time and doing our jobs.  What could be better?”  His long-faced grin certainly was winsome, but Trudith refused to be distracted from her point.

“No, we’re having a good time, and we’re doing your job.  Not mine.”

Keith sighed, leaning back in the classy ice cream parlor chair, all metal curlicues and cherry-red vinyl.  “All right,” he said, “What do you want to know?”

Trudith blinked, her tail beginning to wag.  “Really?” she said.  “You’ll just tell me stuff about your boss?  I don’t have to find a sneaky way to get it out of you?”

“Sure,” Keith said.  “He’s not my favorite topic, but, if he’s really what you want to talk about, why not?”

“Isn’t it going against what your boss asked you to do?”

“My boss asked me to keep you out of his fur.  As long as we’re at an ice cream parlor, out of his sight, I don’t think you’re bothering him.”

Trudith’s tail wagged tentatively.  She was getting tired of the senator treating her like she wasn’t a threat.  She supposed if he underestimated Alistair’s cleverness in assigning her to learn about him, well, that was all the better for Alistair.  “All right,” she said, “Let’s start with what you know about the senator’s plans.”

Keith told Trudith everything he knew about Senator Morrison.  Either Keith wasn’t kept in the loop or Senator Morrison didn’t have any secrets because, according to Keith, he was exactly the slimy, bossy dog he seemed to be.  He had no hidden agendas.  His awful agendas — restrict cats’ rights and start a war with the otters — were all out in the open.  She wasn’t learning anything she didn’t already know.

Keith, on the other paw, was learning a lot from talking to Trudith and watching her reactions.  He wasn’t used to dogs who noticed cats as anything other than an inconvenience, let alone cared about them as people.  Talking to Trudith opened his eyes.

“You really care about this stuff, don’t you?” he asked.

“Well, yeah,” Trudith woofed.  “Don’t you?”

Keith shrugged.  He was such an easy-going guy.  It was a trait Trudith liked.  Sometimes.  Alistair was easy-going.  Even when Alistair was losing the election, nothing really ruffled his fur.  Nonetheless, it could also be infuriating.

“I just don’t see what the big deal is,” Keith said.  “I don’t care about space travel.  One, it’s expensive.”  He held out a claw, ticking off his first point.  “Two, there’s nothing up there but otters and an amusement park on the moon.  So what?  Big deal.  We have better amusement parks right here in New LA.”  He held up another claw.  “And, three, I dunno.  We’ve got a whole planet down here.”  He held his arms out in an expansive gesture and grinned.  “Are cats really feeling so crowded down here that they need to get into outer space to get away?”

“That’s not the point,” Trudith woofed.

“Explain the point to me, then,” Keith said, and although the words sounded flippant, his expression made it clear he was serious.  He truly wanted to understand.

Trudith told Keith everything.  She told him how she used to work for Sahalie, until she met Kipper.  She told him about the drive down to Ecuador with Kipper, and she told him about coming back up to New LA and springing Alistair from jail.  She told him about the dreams Kipper and Alistair had shared with her.  She told him about Kipper and Alistair themselves.

While they talked, the ice cream parlor began to close.  A disgruntled young cat who scooped the ice cream drew the window shades and turned the “Open” sign hanging in the glass of the front door around.  When he started picking up the chairs to put them on tables, Keith jumped up to help.

He might not get it — what it was really like for cats; the difference between a life of subtle privilege and a life of subtle friction, interference, and disappointment.  At least he was a sweet and courteous guy.  When he saw someone smaller wrestling with a heavy object, he offered to help.  It just didn’t occur to him how hard it must be to be smaller and need help, every day, every time.

Trudith and Keith left the cat sweeping up.  They walked through the twilight streets of New LA, breathing the rapidly cooling desert air.  Although Trudith didn’t know it, while she had failed to gain any useful information in that ice cream parlor, she had gained a loyal ally.

Continue on to Chapter 18

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