Spuds

OOWhiz

This story is dedicated to a throw away dog by the name of Spuds who came into my life through a friend. I had the privilege of caring for him for almost three years before he was taken from me by lung cancer at the age of thirteen.

Vincent paced by the doors of the vestibule, stopping every so often to glance up the stairs. Finally Catherine came bounding down dressed in a gray sweat suit and sneakers, a sweatband circled her fore head, and her hair was pulled back into a ponytail.

"Catherine, I wish youíd reconsider," he pleaded standing in front of the doors blocking her way.

"Vincent, weíve been through this all before, I am going out for a jog and thatís all there is to it! There is absolutely no reason why I shouldnít, except your unreasonable fear."

"Itís not unreasonable!" He balled his hands into fists at his sides in frustration. Why couldnít she understand how helpless he felt when she went out in the daytime when he had virtually no possibility of protecting her. "Catherine, please, if not for yourself than for me."

Catherine sighed, "now youíre whining, itís very unbecoming Vincent, and you know what? Iím going!" She pushed past, going through the vestibule doors and out the front entrance. She hated arguing with Vincent, they really never did except for this one thing Ė her jogging. When they had first gotten married there was so much to do and then with one upheaval after another jogging never entered her mind. But now she felt the need to once again get out and run. She enjoyed it too much to give it up. They didnít live close enough for her to jog in Central Park like she used to, but there was Washington Square Park close by, and although not nearly as big it was good enough. She had mapped out her route with the car and had given Vincent the details of her intended run. Sure there was a danger, but there was a potential danger in anything. Sheíd be careful besides she was now armed with Isaacís excellent training. She had no fears. Why should she? Vincent had enough for both of them.

She did some stretches to limber up utilizing the front steps before she began. When she felt ready she started down Christopher Street heading towards Sheridan Square. Skirting around it she continued down Christopher making a right onto Washington Square N. taking an easy jog around the perimeter of the park. It was early in the morning and there werenít too many people out and about yet she practically had the place to herself. She ran enjoying the feel of the wind in her face, the smell of the flowers, the feel of the pavement under her feet. She forgot how good she felt when she ran, all the cares of living dropped away until it was only her and the road in front of her.

Eventually she became aware of a large dog following her. At first it made her nervous, but the dog maintained his distance and made no aggressive moves toward so she continued around the park figuring it would get tired and go home. Leaving the park, she crossed over the Avenue of the Americas back onto 4th and left onto Christopher. A glance over her shoulder showed her that the dog was still with her panting heavily. When she got back to her front steps she was sweating profusely and breathing hard, but she felt wonderful. She sat down on the lower step retying a loose lace when she noticed the dog sitting a few feet away. He didnít seem aggressive at all on the contrary he seemed to be waiting for something. She studied him; he didnít really look like any particular breed she was acquainted with. She thought maybe there could be some Dalmatian in him, he had that breeds long, skinny legs and deep muscular chest. His head was shaped like a Dalmatian too, but with pointed ears and a long snout. He looked to be about 60 or 70 lbs a very imposing sight except he had the kindest look in his deep, brown eyes. As she studied him he tilted his head in the most disarming way.

She smiled at him, "Ok, I guess since you kept me company we may as well become acquainted." As if understanding what she said he got up and walked slowly towards her outstretched hand with his tail wagging. When she reached out to pat his head he leaned into her hand and his whole body wriggled happily, his tail a blur of motion. As she moved her hand down his back he arched and curved his body, lifting his head high enjoying the feel of her touch. He was making the strangest sound, a sort of funny roar, not at all like Vincentís or like anything else she had ever heard. Running her hand back up towards his neck she felt a collar and leaned closer inspecting it for any information. The only thing on it was a nametag riveted into the leather. SPUDS was stamped on it in big bold letters, but no owners name, phone number or address.

"So your name is Spuds." She addressed the dog and the wriggling increased as if he was overjoyed to have his name said. "Are you lost or do you know your way home and just hang out in parks to pick up chicks." Now the wriggling body and roar was accompanied by the stomping of his front feet. "Well ok, Spuds, Iím going in now, go on home." She gave him a final pat and got up, turned away from him and went up the steps. Spuds followed right on her heels and as she opened the door he shot through ahead of her. "No Spuds!" She made a grab for his collar, but missed.

Vincent had been waiting for her to come in and had opened the inner doors; Spuds went through startling him, eliciting a growl that stopped Spuds in his tracks.

Catherine rushed in bumping right into Vincent. He caught her, not taking his eyes off the dog that now sat on his haunches in the hallway thumping his tail on the floor. "Vincent, he followed me home. I didnít think heíd come in." She said in a rush.

"Well he obviously had other plans." Vincent observed. "He must have a home?"

"Heís wearing a collar with his name on it, but nothing else."

Vincent walked over to the dog who happily redouble his tail wagging. He looked at the collar, "Spuds," he muttered. "Thatís a strange name." He was thinking of a potato.

"Itís the name of the dog on the beer commercial, Spuds McKensie."

Vincent chuckled, "he must be related to Bishop Jack."

Catherine smiled, shaking her head. "I doubt it." She squatted down beside the dog who pushed his head into her chest as she scratched his neck and back. "Weíll keep him here tonight and tomorrow Iíll put an ad in the lost and found column, if thatís all right with you." She looked at Vincent who nodded then she wrinkled her nose. "But if youíre going to stay with us tonight," she said to the dog, "you need a bath."

Vincent heartily agreed and led the way to the first floor bathroom. The dog obediently stepped into the tub and quietly allowed them to shampoo him. As the thick coating of dirt washed off him more of his markings appeared His main coat color was dark gray with a white chest and belly. There was a skinny, white blaze running from his nose to the middle of his forehead there was a patch of white on the back of his neck and the very tip of his tail was white. While they toweled him dry he kept making the funny roaring sound, wiggling and wriggling under their ministrations. When he was sufficiently dried he jumped out of the tub and they dried his paws. He followed them out to the kitchen where Catherine began to call various animal shelters to see if anyone had been looking for him. Meanwhile Vincent went to the refrigerator and pulled out some left over meat loaf to feed the dog. As Vincent cut up the meatloaf Spuds stood by him stamping his feet impatiently, he smiled down at him thinking some family must be heart broken at the loss of this dog. When he lowered the paper plate to the floor Spuds looked at the plate then at Vincent. "Go ahead you can eat." Only then did Spuds wolf down the food, holding the plate still with a paw so it didnít scoot away.

Catherine finally hung up the phone. "No oneís called looking for him." She watched as the dog ate his meal. "Iíll put the ad in the paper and weíll see what happens it could take a couple of days. In the mean time I guess heíll just stay with us, if thatís ok with you?"

Vincent nodded in agreement, "Iíd rather see him with us than in a shelter, but we both work tomorrow, where should we keep him?"

"He seems well behaved we could just leave him in the house orÖ" her gaze went from the dog to Vincent, "you could take him with you."

"Catherine, you know how Father feels about animals in the tunnels, we are not allowed pets. As it is Arthur is grudgingly tolerated at best."

"Vincent, we donít live in the tunnels so those rules donít really apply to us. Spuds would be merely accompanying you for the day. Besides itís only until we find his owners."

Vincent was skeptical, "weíll see how he passes the night and make a decision in the morning."

Spuds seemed happiest when the couple were together, lying in front of them as they sat on the couch reading to each other or as they watched the news on TV. When they split up going to the bathroom or the kitchen he would be torn with indecision. Which one should he go with? He would go up and down the stairs keeping an eye on them both or lay in the hallway so he could keep an eye on two rooms at once.

When they went to bed Spuds started out on the floor by the fireplace, but as they dozed off he quietly crept onto the foot of the bed, which is where they found him in the morning. When Vincent called to him he belly crept up to the head of the bed flipping over onto his back between them enjoying the belly rub they gave him.

Catherine threw on her robe and pulling on her slippers went down to let the dog out the back to do his business. After breakfast Catherine left for work kissing her husband and patting Spuds on the head. The poor dog was so upset with her leaving that he glued himself to Vincent, not wanting to lose him too. Vincent took pity on him and took him Below with him. He reported to Fathers chamber to get his morning work assignment with Spuds trotting contentedly behind him. When he entered Father looked up at him, removed his glasses and using them to point asked, "What is that?"

"That Father," he bent to plant a kiss on the patriarchsí forehead, "is a dog."

"I can see itís a dog," he replied exasperated. "What is it doing here?"

"He followed Catherine home yesterday." He settled himself in the chair on the opposite side of the desk. "Weíre taking care of him until we can locate his owner."

"Well make sure you keep him with you, I donít want him running amok."

"Donít worry Father, he doesnít leave my side."

"Humph, see that he stays there." Replacing his glasses he looked at his sheets. "Youíre working with Kanin and Cullen today, shoring up that passage by the Chamber of the Winds." Vincent acknowledged the assignment with a nod and left the chamber with Spuds trotting happily in his wake. People he passed by would remark about the dog asking how Vincent had gotten him. All the stops and repeated explanations made him late to the work site. As he began his apologies to the other two men Spuds walked over to them and they forgot all about Vincent. Something about that dog just made everyone want to smile and pet him. After yet another explanation of how he had come to be with a dog they got down to work. Spuds lay in sight of the men as they worked; wagging his tail every time someone glanced his way. When they broke for lunch, Spuds followed along to the dining hall and was greeted with squeals of delight from children and grownups alike. Father scowled at all the attention the dog was getting. If he werenít careful heíd wind up with a whole zoo down here.

After lunch Mouse took Vincentís place on the repair crew so he could teach his literature class. It took longer than normal to settle the children down due to Spudís presence. They finally were able to begin with Kipper reading the next chapter of Moby Dick. Every so often you would hear the thump of Spudís tail on the floor. The children finally connected the fact that if you looked at the dog heíd wag his tail. In the end Vincent had to, very firmly, tell the children to keep their eyes on their books.

That evening Catherine decided to take a run. Vincent met her at the bottom of the stairs.

"Vincent, donít worry Iíll be fine, besides I think Iíll take Spuds with me." When he heard his name Spuds went to Catherine and stood still as she snapped the leash she had gotten on the way home onto the metal ring of his collar. "You know," she said, "I almost wish we donít get a phone call for him." She scratched behind his ear.

"I know," Vincent, replied, "I feel the same. Heís already made a place in our hearts."

"Iíll see you in a little while." She kissed him and headed out the door, Spuds bounding along beside her. When they hit the sidewalk she turned taking the same route she had previously. Spuds stayed right by her side the whole time, growling if anyone came too close. She had to admit she felt very safe in his company.

As they approached an apartment building, Spuds picked up the pace and began pulling her toward the front steps. There was an old woman sitting there, her eyes had the same milky coating over them as Narcissa and there was a white cane lying beside her. Spuds went right up to her laying his head in her lap.

"Is that you, Spuddy?" She rubbed the dogsí head. "I wondered where you had got off to."

"Do you know this dog?" Catherine asked her heart sinking.

"Oh Spuds and I have been friends for a long time."

"Then youíre not his owner?"

"Oh no, they used to live on the top floor, but theyíre gone now."

"You mean they moved and left Spuds here? Turned him out on the street?" Catherine was shocked.

"Yep thatís the way it happened. You see they were a family, husband, wife, son and three dogs. When they got divorced the man took the son and two dogs, the wife stayed here with Spuds. When she got herself a new beau who didnít like dogs sheíd turn Spuds loose out here every time the man came over. Well a few days ago she moved out of here and in with him so she turned Spuds out permanent like. I was hoping heíd find someone nice to take care of him."

"Thatís a horrible story! How could she do that to her own dog?"

The woman shrugged her shoulders. "He got in the way so she dumped him. He wasnít convenient. It happens all the time. But it seems our Mr. Spuds got himself a nice lady to take care of him." She crooned to the dog, eliciting more tail wagging.

"Iím sorry I should have introduced myself, my name is Catherine, I have a brownstone over on Christopher."

"Iím Odelia. Are you going to keep him?" She asked bluntly.

Slightly taken aback Catherine stammered, "I donít know I hadnít expected anything like what you just told me." She looked at the dog who turned from his blind friend to look over his should at her with big brown eyes. Her heart melted, how could you say no to a face like that. "YesÖyes Iím going to keep him."

The old woman cackled, "You wonít be sorry heís a good dog. Youíll bring him by for visits wonít you?"

"Of course, and if thereís anything I can help you with youíll let me know."

"Now donít you go worrying about old Odelia, just Ďcause Iím blind donít mean I can get on. But it never hurts to have another friend. You take good care of her, Spuds." Spuds barked in reply and tugged Catherine back onto the sidewalk. They resumed their pace and were soon back home, much to Vincentís relief. Although he did have to admit he felt better that Spuds was with her. For that alone he would welcome the dog.

"Vincent," she gasped as soon as she could catch her breath. "Spuds is ours, we can keep him."

"Catherine, calm down. What are you saying?"

"I met someone that knows Spuds and she told me all about his situation." She told him all that Odelia had related and afterwards he shook his head.

"I canít believe people could do something like that."

"Itís a shame heís such a good dog, but heís ours now. That is of course if you agree?"

He enfolded her in his arms, hugging her tightly. "Of course I agree. Heís only been with us a short time, but somehow I feel that heís very special." He looked down at the new addition to their family. "What do you think Spuds, would you like to stay with us?"

Spuds and been resting at their feet, thumping his tail on the floor. When Vincent spoke to him he leapt up standing on his hind legs with a front paw on each of them. Catherine laughed, "I think this means yes."

The following morning was their day to do household chores and poor Spuds tired himself out running up and down stairs trying to keep an eye on both of them. Finally he just plopped down on the ground floor hallway and watched them go up and down the stairs. After lunch Catherine ran out to the grocery store to pick up some dog supplies since Spuds was going to remain with them he would need some proper bowls and dog food. On her way back she drove by the apartment building to see if Odelia was out, and when she saw the old woman she pulled over and parked.

"Odelia, itís Catherine, we met yesterday when I was walking Spuds."

"Yes, yes I remember, got a good mind, just bad eyes. Is he with you?"

"No I was out shopping; Iím on my way home. I was wondering if perhaps you knew what vet his previous owner took him to."

The woman thought for a moment, then held her finger up. "Yes, itís that nice Dr. Levine over on 7th and Waverly."

"Thatís wonderful, thank you."

"You take care now dearie," Odelia called as Catherine turned to go.

"Spuds, and I will be by soon." Catherine promised as she got into her car.

When she got back, Vincent and Spuds were in the back yard playing with an old tennis ball they must have found somewhere. She pulled out the phone book and got the number for the vet. When a woman answered the phone Catherine explained about Spuds and described him. The woman said that since the beer commercial had come out they had a plethora of dogs named Spuds. Catherine made an appointment for the following Tuesday, perhaps when they saw him they would recognize him. Besides she wanted to know about the funny sound he made, it could be he had a condition that they would need to treat.

She hung up the phone and went out to join in the fun.

*

The receptionist at the vetís office remembered Spuds as soon as he made his funny sound. Catherine had told her what Odelia had said about his previous owner and while tsking over the cruelty of some people she changed the ownership information in his file.

As they waited for their turn to be called into an examination room, Catherine went over the last few days in her mind. They had naturally brought Spuds Below over the weekend, much to Fatherís exasperation. He made the mistake of saying if he "let" Vincent have a dog everyone else would want one. Vincent pulled himself up tall, towering over his parent and proclaimed that he was no longer a child, he was a married man with a home of his own and if he wanted a dog there was nothing Father could do about it. It was very seldom that Father and Vincent bumped heads, but when they did it was explosive. Spuds had sat between the two combatants, swiveling his head from one to the other as if he were watching a tennis match. When Father finally plopped down in his chair, Spuds had gone over and sat next to him, putting a paw on his knee. He fixed him with a big brown stare and that was it, Father was hooked. There was just something about Spuds that you just couldnít stay angry. He had the most calming affect on people, it was positively uncanny.

Catherine was brought back to the present when a technician came out to collect them. She led them to a weight scale, which Spuds obediently stood on. The digital read out settled on 62 lbs and the girl made a note of it in his file. They were then shown into an exam room and told the doctor would be in shortly. When Dr. Levine arrived he greeted them both warmly, shaking Catherineís hand and petting Spuds on the head. He gave Spuds a thorough exam and said that he was none the worse for being turned out on the street. When Catherine asked him about the funny noise Spuds made, he told her that the dog had a soft palette and it was the passage of air that made it vibrate which caused the noise. The more excited the dog was the louder the sound. She let out a sigh of relief she had worried that the noise meant that something was wrong. They went home to tell Vincent the good news, Spuds was in perfect health and he should live to a ripe old age.

A few days after the vet visit they got a call from Father late in the evening.

"Vincent, are Kipper and Eric over there with you?" he asked worriedly.

"No Father, why are they missing?"

"It seems so, Mary just checked their chamber and theyíre not there."

Kipper and Eric had just moved out of the boysí dormitory and into a chamber of their own, but Mary still checked on them every night as she did with all the children.

"Their backpacks are missing and William says he noticed some food had gone missing early this morning. Weíve put a message out on the pipes for them, but theyíre not answering."

Vincent became alarmed; all children were taught from little that if they heard their name on the pipe they were to answer immediately. "Father, Catherine and I will be right there." They put on some heavy clothing and went Below with Spuds following along behind them.

When they entered Fatherís chamber there was crowd of people. Vincent went right to Father, "What have you found out so far?"

"Not much Iím afraid, no one seems to know where they are."

"He was up at my workshop the other day," Cullin called out, "he had broken his skate board again and I told him this time I couldnít put it back together, it was too far gone."

"He loves that skateboard," Mary said, her voice quavering.

"Thatís true enough," William added. "Heís forever rolling down the tunnels with it. I donít know how many times Iíve told him to be careful."

"He was telling me about a skateboard he had seen in a pawn shop window top-side," Dustin piped up. "Really cool looking he said."

"But what could a broken skateboard have to do with their disappearance?" Father asked to no one in particular. It made no sense. He ran a hand distractedly through his hair.

"Samantha, is always with them, I wonder if she knows anything?" Catherine added hopefully.

Father nodded, "Youíre right. Mary, go and get her please, and bring her here."

Mary nodded and left shortly bringing back a sleepy Samantha. She ushered the child through the crowd up to Father. Samantha looked around her worriedly.

"Now Samantha, I need to ask you if you know where Kipper and Eric could be?" Father asked the child gently.

She looked at him wide eyed, shaking her head minutely. Vincent could sense that there was something the child wasnít saying so he squatted down beside her. Holding her arms he turned her to face him, "Samantha, Kipper and Eric are missing, they havenít been seen all day, if you know something you need to tell us."

She looked at him with tears filling her eyes, "I canít," she sniffed, "I promised."

Father looked heavenward for a moment then leaned down to her, "and a promise is very important and you should keep it, but if we were to guess where they went you could nod, couldnít you?" Her face brightened and she nodded happily. Everyone threw out names of places they thought they could be, but nothing produced a nod from the girl. Father was just about ready to give up and tell her she had to break her promise when Mouse piped up. "Asked me about the Crystal Cavern yesterday." Samantha nearly fell over in her exuberance.

"The Crystal Cavern?!" Father was shocked why in heavens name would they go all the way down there.

"He asked me just the other day about the jeweler who made Catherineís ring." Bishop Jack added thoughtfully. "He wanted to know if he would still be interested in buying crystals."

"Of course Father, so that he could buy the skateboard." Vincent surmised.

"Well I have to admit it all makes sense, but why didnít he tell anyone and why would he think they wouldnít be missed?" Father turned his gaze on Samantha. The girl shrugged her shoulders; they had already guessed where the boys went so she felt she could answer.

"Kipper figured it would take him an Eric less time to get there and back because the first time Vincent went he really didnít know the way and the other two times he had an old man with him and a girl." She took a quick glance at the Bishop and Catherine when she said it and then down at the floor, her face turning a rosy red.

The Bishop gave the girl a pat on the head, "Thatís all right Samantha, coming from a boy his age thatís about what Iíd expect."

"Father, we must send out search parties there are so many side passages from the one that leads to the cavern they could easily take a wrong turn down a dangerous one."

"Yes Vincent, youíre right, hopefully theyíve been marking their way with chalk and weíll find them quickly." He stood and looked around the room fixing his gaze on William. "William, I want you to make up some provisions to give to each member of the search party." William nodded taking Rebecca and Olivia with him. "Mary, I want you to make up a first aid kit just in case the boys met with some trouble." Mary made her way out of the chamber closely followed by Catherine.

Father turned to the people who were left and choose the most reliable Kanin, Cullen, Stephen, he hesitated when it became obvious that Mouse wanted to go, but a nod from Vincent made him include the young man. Initially the search party would all start out together, but if they encountered side tunnels, a team could be sent down to see if the boys had taken that way. Those assigned to the search dispersed to pack gear and pick up torches and lanterns; they were all to meet back in an hour.

*

Meanwhile Kipper and Eric were getting more lost by the minute. They had long passed the pipes so had no way of communicating with anyone. Eric dutifully held up the lantern so Kipper could chalk another mark on the tunnel opening they were about to take.

"Are you sure you know where youíre going?" He asked Kipper for the upteenth time.

"Of course I know where weíre going, Mouse gave me the directions and Mouse knows the tunnels better than anyone, even Vincent." As he made the mark the piece of chalk he was using fell out of his hand.

"Nuts I dropped the chalk, lower the lantern so I can see where it is."

As Eric moved back to comply with Kippers request the boys heard a crunch, directing the light to shine at his foot they saw the smashed remains of Kipperís chalk.

"Whatíd you do that for?" Kipper exclaimed, annoyed.

"I didnít do it on purpose." Eric shot back.

"Never mind, give me your piece." Kipper held out his hand.

Setting the lantern on the floor Eric checked his pockets, coming up empty.

"IÖI donít have one."

"What do you mean you donít have one? Everybodyís supposed to carry a piece of chalk on them; even a top-sider like Catherine knows that! How can you be so dumb?!"

"Iím sorry, Kipper," Eric hung his head and began to cry.

"Aw knock it off, maybe Iíve got another piece in my backpack." He un-slung his pack, and putting it close to the lantern, started unloading it. There was no more chalk but when he encountered the food they had stolen from the kitchen that morning his stomach grumbled. He figured it was close to lunch time so he gave some to a still sniffling Eric and sat down to eat. When they were finished Kipper re-packed his bag, threw it back on and started off again supremely confidant he was leading them in the right direction.

Much later the search group found their resting spot and seeing the bits of chalk on the ground and knowing Eric surmised what had happened. They also found a hooded sweatshirt lying on the ground, most probably Kippers judging from the size of it. It must have fallen out of his backpack. Vincent fervently hoped that they had another piece of chalk on them and that they would turn back soon. They had already taken several wrong turns and were heading into dangerous tunnels.

The search party continued down the tunnel where they had found the chalk until they reached a three-tunnel fork. Vincent had Mouse and Cullen go down the left hand tunnel and Kanin and Stephen down the right, while he and Spuds took the center. He instructed them to go down about fifty yards or so then turn and meet up back at the fork. Neither of the teams had any good news to report, the ground here was rock and held no footprints to discern which tunnel the boys might have gone down. There were no further chalk marks either to indicate which direction they had taken. Vincent stood silently trying to decide which way to take when he felt an insistent tugging on the sweatshirt he held in his hand. Letting go of it Spuds took it and went to the center tunnel. He dropped the shirt on the ground and barked at Vincent. When Vincent didnít move he picked it up again went toward Vincent and then back to the tunnel, once again dropping the sweatshirt and barking.

Kanin looked at the dog perplexed, "Whatís he doing, Vincent?"

"Iím not sure," was the hesitant reply. "I think he wants us to follow him."

Cullen shrugged his shoulders, "One ways as good as another at this point." The searchers moved to the center tunnel with Spuds leading the way, encouraging them onward with his barking. When he was sure they were following he put his nose to the ground and followed the invisible scent.

*

By now the boys were hopelessly lost and the oil in the lantern was running dangerously low. Tired and foot sore Eric sat down and wouldnít budge. "I wanna go home, Kipper, letís go back."

Kipper squatted down beside the younger boy, placing the lantern between them. "Yeah I guess this was a dumb idea." He fished out what was left of the food they had taken and divided it between them. Before they had finished the lamp began to sputter.

"Kipper!" Eric said in alarm. "Did you bring more oil?"

"No, I figured weíd get more when we reached Vincentís camping spot. He always stores a supply of wood and oil. Howíd I know weíd get lost?"

Just then the lamp went out and the boys were plunged into darkness. Eric frantically reached out for Kipper, needing to know the other boy was close. In doing so he knocked over the lantern. Kipper made a grab for it as it rolled away. He missed and began to crawl around feeling for it in the total darkness of the tunnel. Finally his fingers felt it and he picked it up by the handle. Eric had followed the sounds he had made and bumped into him just as he stood up. Reaching out Eric frantically latched onto Kipperís arm. Pulling Ericís hand off his arm Kipper placed it on the handle of the lantern along side his, then groped around for his backpack. Sweeping his foot around, he found it and slung it over his shoulder. The whole time Eric was quietly crying, making tiny snuffling sounds.

"Itíll be all right Eric, weíll start for home right now." The older boy said with a lot more bravado then he felt. In searching for the lantern he had gotten totally disoriented and didnít know which way they had come. He stood still and thought he felt a breeze ahead of him so he started of in that direction keeping his left hand on the wall and his right on the lantern handle pulling Eric along behind him. They hadnít gone very far when they heard an ominous creak and rattle of stones. Suddenly the floor went out from under them and they fell through the hole that had opened up beneath them. Their screams echoed as they plummeted to the cavern floor below.

*

The men were still following Spuds down the tunnel when they came to another intersection. They checked the walls for any marks the boys might have made, but there were none to be seen. Spuds meanwhile had sniffed down both tunnels for a short distance then with a bark chose the right hand one. Not having any better ideas the men continued to follow. They went for quite a distance never seeing a sign of the boysí passage, but Spuds seemed to be more certain of his path. He had increased his speed and now trotted rapidly with his nose down. Cullen called out for a halt, they had been walking for hours and now that Spuds had pushed them into a jog, he needed to catch his breath. The others collapsed on the ground with him, except for Vincent, the dogs urgency was making him nervous, there was something very wrong and he wanted to continue.

"Iím going to keep going, Iíll mark the way, follow after youíve rested." Even this small pause was too much for Spuds, he had taken Vincentís cloak in his teeth and was pulling on him to follow. When Vincent turned from the others Spuds leapt out in front of him and began to run, Vincentís great strides easily kept pace with him and they ate up the distance separating them from the children.

Vincent saw the cloud of rock dust as the light of his lantern lit that portion of the tunnel where the floor had collapsed. Cautiously he moved forward till he could peer over the edge of the cave in. As far as Vincent could tell from the limited view the lantern light afforded him the floor had fallen into a large cavern. He lay on his belly and hung the lantern over the edge as far as his arm could reach to illuminate it further hoping to catch some glimpse of the children. Spuds had crept along his masterís side and cocked his head listening, Vincent heard it too, the quiet sobs of a terrified child. Spuds began to bark joyously, Vincent patted his head, "Good boy, Spuds, you found them."

Then he called down, "Kipper, Eric weíre here, weíll get you out."

A quavering voice called back to them, "Vincent, Iím scared."

"Donít be Eric, Iíll be with you shortly." He peered into the rubble that lay on the cavern floor following the sound of the voice. Cascades of pebbles were stilling tumbling downward as Vincent inched forward trying to shine the light in that direction. There he saw a movement and could just make out a little hand lying between two rocks. "Eric, is Kipper by you?"

"I donít know," he wailed. "I donít know where he is."

"Itís all right Eric, weíll find him." He spoke soothingly, broadcasting calm towards the boy. He turned to the dog at his side, "Spuds, go back and get the others, make them hurry." As if understanding completely Spuds sprinted back the way they had come.

Vincent wasnít going to wait for the others to assist the children; he felt the pain Eric was in. Holding the lantern securely he jumped through the hole landing lightly in a crouch amid the rubble of stones, his weight causing the unstable pile to shift underneath him. Straightening he slowly picked his way to Eric, looking for Kipper as he went.

Setting the lantern down he began to remove the stones that covered the boy all the while talking calmly to him, reassuring him that everything was going to be all right. He worried that he couldnít Ďfeelí Kipper with his empathic sense. Hopefully the boy was just unconscious; he didnít want to think about the other possibility.

As his upper body was freed from debris Eric flung his arms around Vincentís neck, and buried his face in the broad chest. "Itís all right now Eric," Vincent spoke soothingly, "everything is going to be all right. Youíre safe now." He held the child in a tight embrace, extending his healerís sense to check Ericís condition. The boy was lucky he only had minor bruises, a miracle considering the fall he had taken. Vincent removed the rest of the stones from Ericís lower body one handed while keeping his other arm around the little body that still shook with sobs.

When Eric was completely freed he picked the boy up in his arms and made his way to the opening. Spuds came rushing up and began barking at him from the edge of the hole far above. The men skidded to a stop beside the dog and peered down.

"Vincent, Vincent, where are you?" Kanin called trying to pierce the darkness.

"Here," he called back, lifting his lantern so they could see him.

Three more faces appeared looking down at him. "Whereís Kipper?" Stephen asked.

"I havenít found him yet. Lower Mouse down on a rope so he can help me look and weíll send Eric back up."

Vincent figured Mouse was the lightest of the search party and would be easy to haul back up. Beside it would probably take the combined strength of all of them to get him up. He hadnít seen anywhere in the upper tunnel to secure a rope. The rope was thrown down and soon Vincent could see Mouseís legs protrude over the edge. Nimbly Mouse grabbed hold of the rope and shimmed down it. He helped Vincent tie the end of the rope around Eric and watched as the boy was pulled up to safety. Spuds licked Ericís face the minute he was released from the rope, almost as if assuring himself the boy was ok. Then he went back to the edge of the hole and began pacing and barking at the two below him.

"Vincent, Spuds is going crazy up here. Do you think he knows where Kipper is?" Kanin asked.

"Itís possible; it was Kipperís sweatshirt that gave him the scent." Vincent replied.

"Maybe we could lower him down?" Cullen suggested.

"How do you wrap a rope around a dog without hurting him?" Stephen scratched his head.

Without looking up from his search Mouse called out, "blanket."

The three men looked at each other dumbfound then shook their heads chuckling; leave it to Mouse to come up with the solution. They got a blanket and slung it under the dog, tied the ends tightly together above his back and then threaded the rope through it. Spuds stood rock still as they made their preparations and then gingerly stepped to the edge of the opening. He saw Vincent standing beneath him and made a leap out into thin air. The three men took his weight on the rope and slowly lowered him down. Vincent helped him step out of the sling and the minute he was free he raced to the downward slope of the cavern soon lost to sight. Vincent and Mouse followed as best they could, carefully stepping over the still shifting debris. Spuds was making such a racket Vincent was afraid he might set of more landslides. When Spuds saw that they were coming towards him he stopped barking and began to dig at a spot close to the cavern wall. Setting their lanterns down they helped the dog move stones and dirt and there under a small ledge was Kipper. When he hit the cavern floor he must have rolled down the incline and gotten wedged in, then covered with falling rock. As they quickly uncovered the boy, Vincent probed with his healers sense. Kipper had a concussion and a badly broken leg, the bone had broken through the skin and it was bleeding badly.

When Mouse saw it he sucked in his breath, "bad huh?" he asked.

"Yes Mouse, itís bad," replied Vincent solemnly.

"You fix, right?" Mouse was supremely confident in his friendís ability to fix anything, but the sight of all the blood made him nervous.

"Iíll try Mouse. Why donít you go tell the others weíve found him?" He could feel Mouseís nauseousness, informing the others would give him a chance to collect himself. Vincent centered and began the task of repairing the leg. His job done, Spuds had lain down at Kipperís head, looking on while his master worked. Mouse came back with a blanket that he gently put under Kipperís head, he could see that the leg looked normal, but he shook his head at the amount of blood the child had lost. He positioned himself behind his friend and placed his hands on Vincentís shoulders. Vincent felt the small influx of energy and smiled to himself, it was just like Mouse to want to help and figure out the best way to do it. He took the offering and used it to encourage a faster rate of blood production the way his two healersí on Beta had. He knew he could only stabilize Kipperís condition since he would need enough strength to get back to the home tunnels.

*

Catherine had been dozing off and on in a chair by Fathers table where he and the Bishop and been playing chess, endlessly debating moves that Fischer had made in his games against Spassky. Mary had been sitting quietly listening while she crocheted yet another afghan. She was just dozing off again when she felt Vincentís elation at finding the children. She bolted upright, startling the others, "they found them," she said excitedly. Since they had married and become one in body the bond had strengthened considerably, especially for Catherine, she could now feel her husbandís emotions as clearly as he had always been able to feel hers. Right now she felt his excitement at the discovery of the boys, soon followed by the dismay of Kipperís injuries. She felt the marshalling of his healers energy as he began the repairs needed to be able to transport the child home. The others could see the parade of emotions cross Catherineís face as she concentrated on Vincent. When her awareness returned to the chamber, Father reached out to touch her hand, "What is it Catherine? Whatís wrong?"

Glancing at the three worried faces around her she relayed the bad news, "Kipperís badly injured."

Father immediately got up and began pacing the chamber. He stopped in front of Catherine, "Can Vincent help him?"

"Heís doing what he can."

"What about Eric?" Mary asked worriedly. "Is he all right?"

"From what I can tell Eric is fine."

"Thank God," Jack muttered. "At least they only have to worry about one."

Vincent meanwhile did what he could for Kipper, repairing the leg and easing the pressure off the brain from the blow to his head. He planned on carrying the boy home so he could continue supporting and encouraging blood production. As he came out of his healing trance Mouse looked at him anxiously, "Kipper all right?"

"I think so Mouse." Turning towards his friend he placed a hand on his shoulder. "Thank you for the help."

Mouse ducked his head shyly.

"Why donít you rig the sling for Spuds and have him pulled up, Iíll bring Kipper."

Mouse nodded and at his signal Spuds leaped up to follow him. He placed the blanket sling around the dog and the men above carefully pulled him up, then they lowered the rope again to pull Mouse up. It took all four of them to haul Vincent up with Kipper carefully cradled in his arms. Spuds had gone to the still weeping Eric who had thrown his arms around the dog, hugging him tightly. The party gathered up their things and with Eric riding piggyback on Kanin they began the journey home.

It was many hours later that they finally reached the home tunnels. They had sent a message on the pipes as soon as they encountered one and gave an estimated time of arrival. Several people went to meet them and took over carrying whatever they could to relieve the exhausted men. Vincent took Kipper directly to the hospital chamber and laid him on the bed prepared for him. Father examined him as Mary started stripping off his torn and bloodied clothing.

Vincent staggered to a chair and practically fell into it, the exertions of the last few days finally catching up with him. Catherine ran a hand through his mane, sitting on his knee as he pulled her to him, burying his face between her breasts. She hugged him tightly feeling his weariness. She held him for a time, finding comfort in his embrace and he in hers until she stood and took his hand. Pulling him up she led him to their chamber and tucked him into bed. He was asleep before she pulled the comforter over him. She smiled tenderly at him, and kissed him on the brow before she left in search of Eric. She found him in his chamber being fussed over by Rebecca and Samantha. Sitting beside him on his bed she received a bone-crushing hug, which she carefully returned. The poor boy had visible bruises on his face and neck and she could just imagine what the rest of him must look like. When he loosened his grip she pushed him back so she could look at his face.

"How are you feeling, Eric?"

"Aw, Iím ok. Howís Kipper?" He asked anxiously, his eyes large behind the thick lenses of his glasses.

"Heís going to be just fine." She reassured him, tousling his hair.

She spent a little time chatting, then reassured that Eric was fine, went back to Vincent to catch up on some much needed sleep herself. She had to push Spuds down to the end of the bed so she could crawl in next to her husband. The dog gave her a disgruntled look as he settled himself again and promptly went back to sleep, snoring quietly.

Vincent woke slowly, feeling Catherine beside him also stirring. He glanced down towards the end of the bed and saw Spuds staring at him. The dog leaped up, planting his paws on Vincentís chest, his tail furiously wagging away. Effectively pinned down Vincent had no choice but to scratch the dogís body and head causing the dog to flip over onto his back and fall in between his two owners. It was a toss up as to who was enjoying themselves more, the scratchers or the scratchee. In the midsts of the free for all Vincent managed to tell Catherine that it was all due to Spuds that they had been able to rescue the children. As they gathered clothing to bring to the bathing chamber he told her all the details of the harrowing search. Spuds lay contentedly by the edge of the pool, wagging his tail every time his name was mentioned.

Before going to the dining hall to get something to eat they stopped by Fatherís chamber. The tunnel leader sat at his desk, his head supported by cupped hands. He seemed asleep until Spuds nudged him with his nose. Startled he looked down at the dog that now sat by his side. He patted the dogís head, "I understand we have you to thank for saving the children." Spuds wriggled happily under the attention. Looking up he noticed the couple standing at the top of the stairs. "Catherine, Vincent, come in, come in. Iíve already spoken to the rest of the search party; they tell me if it werenít for the dog you wouldnít have found the children."

"Thatís true, Father." Vincent took a seat on the other side of the desk, pulling Catherine into his lap. "Spuds, was able to lead us right to them." At the mention of his name, Spuds went over to the chair the couple were sitting in and laid down beside it. Knowing his Father was a stickler for detail Vincent launched into a comprehensive account of the rescue. When he was done Father looked down at the dog with respect.

"I suppose having a search and rescue dog at our disposal is no bad thing." He patted his knee calling the dog to him. "Spuds, I here by officially make you a member of this community, welcome." Spuds was wagging his tail so hard it looked like it was going to come off.

Suddenly he stood rock still; his ears pricked forward, his whole attention on the entrance of the chamber. The others looked up and saw Arthur just coming into view, the dog gave a bark and took off after the raccoon. They were gone in an instant the sound of scrabbling claws and barking receding rapidly away from the chamber. Father ran a hand through his graying hair. "Keeping that rodent out of my chamber is reason enough to keep the dog around." He laughed as Vincent got up, kissed his parent on the head then ran out to the tunnel to rescue poor Arthur. Catherine stood where her husband had deposited her and laughed till the tears ran down her face. The look on the raccoons face when confront by Spuds was priceless.

Spuds had definitely found his niche and would now live his life as his new owners did, Above and Below. This throw away dog had found a home.