The dog woke up, and her head snapped toward the sound she heard in the dark.
"Did you hear that?" Mom Lady was asking the Hairy Guy. He mumbled something that might have been a question about the price of prunes. "The mouse is in your trashcan!" That made him lift his head, at least.
The two humans and the canine listened intently, each hoping for a slightly different thing to happen. There was a snap of light, a rustle of plastic, the clatter and scatter of an overturned bedside trashcan, and a tink of radiator tines as a small body disappeared under the baseboards. The two humans cursed, and the dog pretended to go back to sleep.
"He’s getting brave," the Hairy Guy said. "I thought I saw him run across the hallway when I was in the bathroom last night, and tonight he ran under the ottoman while I was playing Zelda. I would have got him, but he ran back under the couch."
"Great, and now he’s in here." Mom Lady looked over at the supposedly sleeping dog, and said, "You better eat him before we get that poison set out. If you decide to eat him after, it’s your own fault!"
The dog was trying not to listen. She almost convinced herself that no one whispered "collaborator!" before drifting off again.
The next day was gorgeous; no wind, no rain, and the sun shone brightly in the yard. The dog, the kids, and even the Hairy Guy, spent most of the day outside. The children played ball, and chased the dog around. She barked, chased sticks, sniffed around for vermin, and had a grand time. Except when the neighbors’ dog came out, and she tried to eat his face.
"What is your problem with other dogs?" Hairy Guy demanded, as he dragged her back to a neutral corner of the yard. "You know, half the reason we got you was so we could make some friends around here. The old ’hey, we both have dogs, let’s stand on the corner and talk’ icebreaker? Doesn’t work so well with all the blood and fur flying."
The dog would have said something in her defense, but she was still straining to see if the other dog was still there. And if he was...
If she really thought about it, though, maybe Hairy Guy did have a point. Maybe she wouldn’t be reduced to befriending the bane of the household if she had some canine friends. She just couldn’t help herself. Not being a creature of great self control, she tended to go with the gut reaction in most situations.
And not being a creature of great introspection, she forgot about the remark before they went inside.
That night, Doots was happily nibbling some kibble under the hutch, while the dog ate her dinner. The kids were in the living room, and the grownups were in the office. "You need to cool it," the dog was saying.
"Don’t worry," Doots said. "I’ve been watching them. They never look at the floor. I’m around all the time, and that Hairy Guy is the only one to notice. And that was a fluke; he’s in his own little world most of the time, anyway."
"I don’t know," she replied. "He can be scary."
Doots made a dismissive squeak. "Who are you kidding? You told me yourself he was slow, and dumb, and the only thing he’s ever done to you is yell. I think I can handle a bellowing fat guy if it comes to that. Here, watch; I’ll do a lap in the hallway and they won’t even know!"
The dog’s heart stopped as he disappeared around the corner. She braced herself for a scream or something; but nothing happened. Maybe he was right. Sure enough, the grownup voices droned on. And then...
"Hey, I just saw him!"
"There... he ran behind you. Either into the closet or behind the shelves!"
They each dove for wherever they thought a mouse might hide, and tore the place to bits. The Mom Lady called the dog: "Trixie! Come get the mouse!" But the dog was frozen, transfixed by the mayhem, and she stayed put under the table, just out of sight.
There was a moment when she thought he might have made it down some unseen hole, but then one of the humans shrieked, and the dog saw her friend scrambling frantically down the back side of a pile of rags the Hairy Guy had pulled out of the hall closet.
Doots didn’t look quite so confident as his tiny claws scrambled for traction on the hard wood floors, but the Hairy Guy just flailed helplessly after him, babbling something about a hammer, and they both bumbled into the bathroom, where Doots apparently dove under the baseboard radiators and from there, under the sink.
The humans seemed energized by the incident, and spent an hour seeking out and plugging holes with wads of copper scouring pad material. The Mom Lady ranted about poison, glue traps, and even borrowing a cat. The Hairy Guy suggested something to do with lengths of pipe, electrical wires, needles, and a 5 gallon bucket of hydrochloric acid.
When the Mom Lady finally spotted the dog, she waved a finger in her face. "Your little friend had best make himself scarce, little dog." She was smiling, but it wasn’t a nice smile. "You tell him we’re about to get really serious."
The next morning, a single mouse turd sat on the window sill above the headboard. A mute, mousey gauntlet that said, "I accept your challenge."