Monday, 5 October 2009

Every Dog Has His Day (with apologies to cat-lovers)

Copyright © 2007

This is a humorous story about a young boy who loved his dog and became a great scientist so that he could realise his life's dream: to communicate with his pet. The story was rejected :( by Interzone. Their loss, your gain.

Professor Denzel Jones was a very intelligent man. You would, of course, guess that from the title ‘Professor’ but even among professors he was quite exceptional. He had gone up to Cambridge at the age of sixteen, and graduated three years later with a double-first in Behavioural Psychology and Electronics: a strange combination, you might think, but Denzel Jones had a plan, more of which later.

After graduation, he gained his PhD not with merely original research but with groundbreaking research into the workings of brain and mind. He shone like the brightest star in the firmament in his post-doctoral research years, soon securing a lectureship, global recognition, and, with even more surprising rapidity, a chair in Psychology at Cambridge. He had never, in fact, considered applying for a professorial post but had been made several offers he could not refuse from the most prestigious universities on both sides of the Atlantic. He chose to remain in the UK to be near his mother who, most importantly of all, had left her cottage near Pontypridd to look after his dog, Oscar, while he was at work.

Needless to say, Denzel had many friends in high places and not a few enemies, all of whom were, if they were honest (and most of them were not), utterly jealous of his enormous intellect and meteoric rise to academic greatness. His best human friend (actually his worst enemy) was Jonathan Bytheway, a man with very little talent, and a poor cricketer. He was clever enough but nothing like genius, except for when it came to making sure he was in the right place at the right time. He had recognised Denzel’s talent early on and had made sure that he was well positioned to be pulled along in Denzel’s wake to whatever starry heights may be beckoning him.

Denzel’s real best and truest friend was Oscar. Oscar was an English Labrador Retriever. He was not the brightest of dogs, neither was he the dimmest. He loved his master even more than he loved food and swimming, and not just because he was a dog and it was his job. He detested Jonathan Bytheway. He thought himself a good judge of character and tried everything in his limited knowledge of inter-species communication to make Denzel see the truth about Jonathan but never succeeded, perhaps because Oscar was not very good at inter-species communication, or because his master was not as clever as everyone thought, or because his master chose to ignore Oscar’s warnings. Knowing Denzel as he did, and taking a certain pride in his own abilities, Oscar could only assume the last case to be true and wonder why…

Ah, yes – the plan!

Now Oscar was not Denzel’s first dog. No. That honour fell to a pit-bull-dachshund-cross named Sausage who had been given to Denzel by his parents on his eighth birthday. Sausage was only five day’s old at that time and had been rescued, along with three brothers and a sister, by Denzel’s father from an old sack with a brick in it that he had witnessed being thrown by an unseen miscreant from a bridge into a river. Fortunately for Sausage, the bag had caught in the branches of a tree that overhung the river. Even more fortunately for Sausage, Denzel’s dad had a soft spot for anything with four legs, especially if it whined and yelped in desperation, and he made an heroic effort to effect a rescue, almost falling into the treacherous waters himself.

Denzel had been given the choice of the litter and, naturally, and taking after his father, he chose the runt. Together, he and his father had hand-reared the litter.  Once the others had been old enough, Denzel’s dad had found good homes for them all and used the few bob he had made from their sale to buy Sausage’s first collar and lead. The collar was a strip of leather ornamented with large metal studs and terminated with a large, heavy buckle – an accessory that, in conjunction with Sausage’s unfortunate shape, proved to be a great source of humour to the people who met Sausage, at least until they felt the sharp ends of his pit-bull teeth.

Denzel had loved Sausage dearly and, in the few short years they were together, had read everything he could about dogs and their behaviour. He was quite fascinated by their relationship.  His deepest longing was to understand the world as Sausage saw it, and to know what on earth was going on inside Sausage’s head. Quite clearly, Sausage was an intelligent beast: Denzel had watched him reasoning out how to get a long stick through a narrow gate; Sausage understood questions like, ‘Are you ’ungry’, and instructions like, ‘Go find your ball’, and (from Denzel’s father), ‘Get off the sofa, you little b****r!’, and a whole host of other things.

On the momentous day that Denzel had heard that he had earned himself a place in the local grammar school (to the astonishment of his entire family, who thought him to be a bit of a dreamer who would never amount to anything other than a miner like his dad), he made up his mind and formulated his plan. He would make the very most of the opportunity that had been given him and learn all he could about animals; one day, he would be the world’s greatest dog expert. He did not then know words like ‘psychology’, and he had never heard of Lorenz or Pavlov: he just wanted to know what made Sausage tick, and why he licked certain parts of his anatomy in preference to others…

Denzel learnt a hard lesson on the day that Sausage was killed. Sausage had been sitting at a window, growling at a cat in the back garden; a cat that seemed to know he was watching, and that flaunted itself in front of him, brushing itself lasciviously against the tree and mewing loudly. Sausage’s response had been a pointless escalation into ferocious barking and covering the window with ejected saliva. The cat, clearly aware of its unimpeachable safety on the other side of the glass, had carried on with its shameless behaviour, working poor Sausage into a frenzy in the process.

Sausage had escaped from the house when Mrs Jones had gone outside to throw some scraps to the birds. The cat had not noticed Sausage (who had decided to be foxy and crept out stealthily) until it was almost too late. The suddenly-spooked moggy had taken off through a hole in the hedge and, expecting Sausage to be unable to follow, had stopped to wind him up some more. Sausage however, due to his unfortunate parentage, found the hole just about big enough to get most of his long, thin body through and his musculature more than adequate to force the hole wide enough for the less well accommodated sections. The startled cat took off with a determined Sausage in hot pursuit. Around the corner they went, and the cat broke its flight briefly to eye up a tree and assess its potential as a sanctuary.

Alas, that was the poor animal’s undoing. Sausage caught the cat’s tail as it attempted to leap into the tree. Sausage sank his teeth as hard as he could into the feline extremity and yanked the beast away from its refuge, swinging around as he pulled, the cat flying out like a hammer-thrower’s hammer, its head crashing at the end of its circuit into the tree trunk. Stunned, the cat dropped to the ground. Thrilled at this sudden and unexpected achievement (this being the only cat among many chased that Sausage had ever succeeded in catching) he let go of the tail and lunged for the kill, sinking his pit-bull teeth into the cat’s throat and shaking it with all his considerable, pit-bull-bequeathed might.

Alas, that distraction was poor Sausage’s undoing. Who should happen around the corner from the opposite direction but the cat’s owner – a young boy on his way home from the playing fields and carrying a cricket bat far too big for him. Smash! went the bat. Yelp! went Sausage. Jonathan Bytheway (for it was he) picked up his dead cat by the tail with his free hand and ran crying homewards, leaving a trail of feline blood behind him, to sob into his mother’s ample bosom. Sausage lay gasping his final gasps, his injuries too great for the vet to have saved him even had he been found alive, thinking his last thoughts of his Denzel, who would never know how he had met his end, and whom he regretted would never know that he had died a real dog, having finally caught and killed a cat.

Denzel’s mother, on coming out to put rubbish into the dustbin, had found Sausage lying dead beneath the tree, wrapped him in a tea-towel, and left him lying on the kitchen table until Denzel returned home from the pit where he had gone to meet his father after work. Together, the three of them had held a simple funeral service, in which Sausage was buried beneath Mr Jones’s favourite gooseberry bush, from whence Denzel at that time believed himself to have come into the world. Denzel cried for three days and mourned for three months. Jonathan Bytheway cleaned and re-oiled his cricket bat and convinced his father to replace his lost cat with a new bicycle.

Now, Mr Jones was a good father and did all he could to help Denzel with his education. It was a struggle for most of the time, what with strikes and all, and the cost of the grammar school’s uniform being exorbitant, and Denzel growing so fast. Even so, he managed to put a bit of money away for Denzel’s future. One day, a couple of years later, the boy came home from his friend Nancy’s house all excited, his eyes wide and full of expectation. ‘Dad,’ he shouted, ‘You’ll never guess. Nancy’s dog’s ’ad puppies and she says I can ’ave one.’

‘That’s nice, Denzel.’

‘Nancy’s mam says they’re only one ’undred pounds. They’re proper pedigree dogs, you see.’

‘One ’undred pounds, boy! ’ow are we expected to find that, then? I work in a coal mine, not the Royal Mint.’

‘But Dad, they’re smashin’, and there’s one I really like. Oh, please, please can I ’ave ’im?’

Mr Jones had not seen Denzel so happy since Sausage’s unfortunate demise and would dearly have loved to buy the dog for him. One hundred pounds was more than he could afford however and would make a sizeable dent in the money he had put away for more important things. ‘We can’t afford it, Denzel. I’m sorry, boy.’ Denzel, good, rational, obedient child that he was, accepted his father’s honest answer and went away to keep his sorrow to himself.

At the end of the week, on Saturday morning, Mr Jones came home with a box under his arm and shouted out, ‘Denzel, I’ve got somethin’ yer for you. Come and see, boy!’

The boy left his bedroom, where he had been putting the finishing touches to his geography homework, and tumbled down the stairs to see what his father had for him. He heard a tiny yelp as he came into the kitchen, and he cast around the room to see where it came from. On the table, in exactly the spot where Sausage’s dead body had lain in state, was a box with lots of holes in it that looked like they had been made with a pencil or a screwdriver. From the box came another yelp. Suddenly excited, Denzel hurried to the table. ‘Can I open it?’ he asked his dad; ever the polite boy, he was. His father nodded, and Denzel carefully opened the interlocked flaps of the box to reveal a small, golden puppy. He reached inside to pick up the little dog that licked his fingers, and nipped playfully at them, and peed with excitement on Denzel’s hands as they enclosed him.

‘I done a deal with Nancy’s mam,’ said Mr Jones, ‘She let you ’ave ’im for fifty pounds plus some ’andiwork by me and some errands by you.’

‘Oh yes,’ said Mrs Jones, ‘and what sort of ’andiwork did she ’ave in mind, then?’

‘Just some jobs around the ’ouse – mendin’ a couple of window frames and touchin’ up the paintwork.’

‘As long as that’s all you’re touchin’ up, mind.’

Mr Jones scowled at an uppity Mrs Jones and turned his attention back to the dog. ‘’is name’s a bit of a mouthful, look you,’ he said, passing Denzel the certificate he had pulled from his jacket pocket.

Denzel took the paper and read the name out loud, ‘Prince Kensington of Osaka the Third.’ He paused, then he lifted the puppy above his head and beamed a smile at him. ‘I’ll think I’ll call you Oscar,’ he said. Oscar licked the air and wagged his little tail in approval. Denzel was the happiest boy and Oscar happiest puppy in Pontypridd.

Unfortunately for Denzel, his blissful family existence was not to last much longer. Nancy’s mam (a widow and desperate for love) had been more than his dad (a man, more need not be said) could resist, and Mr Jones left Mrs Jones, Denzel and Oscar to move in with Nancy’s mam. It was at about the same time that Denzel found out about sex: he was disgusted that his dad might be doing it with Nancy’s mam, the idea of his dad’s doing it with his own mother being bad enough. Admittedly, his understanding was a confusion of what the teacher had told the class and what the other boys had told him; although any of the variations on the theme were enough to make him feel sick. Strangely, though, the idea of doing it with Nancy made him go all tingly and, having once had the thought, he went bright red every time he went to see her. He wondered why she went red when he turned up, and if it was for the same reason…

Mr Jones had tried to say sorry to Denzel for letting the family down, and tried to explain that he still loved Denzel and still wanted to help him with his education: he was still Denzel’s dad and Denzel was still his boy, whatever had happened between him and Mrs Jones. Denzel was deeply disappointed with his dad, and had to cope with his mother’s crying every night for a month after the split. Only Oscar had truly been there for him. Oscar had been his rock, licking his face when he felt like crying, lying tight alongside him at night until he had gone to sleep, and making sure they had lots of fun when they went on walks. Oscar was the one who kept him sane and made him laugh. Oscar was his best and truest friend; and Denzel was Oscar’s.

Denzel was unsure what to do about his traitorous dad’s financial contributions to his education. He certainly was not happy about hiding it from his mother, although she knew what was happening anyway, and would have been horrified to think that Denzel had a problem with taking the b******d for every penny he could get. Denzel hatched another plan. He would earn his own upkeep, or as much as he could, anyway. He knew a lot about dogs, and many of the local kids had dogs but none of them were any good at getting their dogs to do as they were told. Denzel opened the Pontypridd School for Dogs, where he kissed Nancy for the very first time, and Oscar learnt something that would later be of great significance.

Now, it must come as no surprise that Denzel kissed Nancy, and that they both enjoyed it so much that they did it a lot thereafter, although they made sure no-one else was watching – apart from Oscar and Nancy’s dog, Wendy, who were not watching anyway, having much more interesting things to do and not minding too much who was watching; the fact that Wendy and Oscar were quite closely related is perhaps an issue best not thought about…

Of much more interest is what Oscar learnt, apart from the things that Wendy taught him. One of the older boys who came to the class had a dog called Saber (that should have been Sabre, of course, but the boy was not good at spelling; in fact, neither was Saber). Anyway, Saber, a mongrel, with several strands of Alsatian to his credit – although he told the other dogs that he was part-wolf (they did not know that there had been no wolves in Wales for centuries, and so they believed him; well, the smaller dogs with smaller brains believed him but bigger dogs like Oscar just smiled and sniffed the nearest bottom by way of distraction). Anyway, Saber told Oscar and all the other dogs in the class about a day many years ago when he had been a young dog about town and had slipped out for a bit of an adventure when no-one was watching. He had been near Oscar’s home when it was Sausage’s home – and what a great dog Sausage was, despite his less than perfect ancestry: no wolf in him, you know – when a cat had shot through the hedge and was followed just as quickly by Sausage. Saber had watched Sausage’s brilliant slaying of the cat, and was about to go over and congratulate him when the boy known as Jonathan Bytheway had turned up and done for Sausage. None of the humans knew what had happened but, from the day that Saber told the story, Jonathan Bytheway lived in fear of dogs who, for no reason he could fathom, all seemed to snarl and growl and snap whenever he went near one. The one exception was Oscar, Denzel’s dog, who, for Denzel’s sake, and in hope of a Greater Opportunity, kept his teeth covered. His only show of disdain was to store up as much gas as he could contain and let it out only when Jonathan Bytheway came around to play with Denzel – and only then if Denzel and his mother were not in the room. He had eventually to pass up even that pleasure because Denzel spent more and more time with Nancy, and less and less time with Jonathan. Oscar awaited his time to avenge Sausage, his honourable predecessor and his master’s first beloved dog.

Time passed by and Denzel became a university student, winning a scholarship for Cambridge. Oscar missed him when he was away but the vacations were so much fun. He and Wendy, and Denzel and Nancy, who eventually also went away to university, spent most of their time together, walking on the hills around Pontypridd, or borrowing Nancy’s mam’s car and driving to Port Talbot to spend the day on the beach. Oscar loved the beach and loved to swim in the sea. He also loved Denzel more and more. He did not know what students did at university but Denzel seemed increasingly able to understand him each time he came home. Denzel, of course, had been learning about Lorenz and Pavlov and lots of other things about animal behaviour.

One day, Denzel and Oscar went out on their own. They walked up to the Old Bridge in Pontypridd and sat on the grass beside the river where Denzel told Oscar about his plan.  ‘I am going to find a way to communicate properly with you, my old friend,’ said Denzel. Oscar cocked his head to one side and stuck his ears out a bit, wondering if Denzel was talking about food or swimming. ‘I’m studyin’, you see. I’m learnin’ lots of things about how our brains work.’

Oscar said, ‘I wish I could warn you about Jonathan Bytheway.’

‘Exactly my problem,’ said Denzel, ‘I know you’re tryin’ to tell me somethin’ but I don’t know what it is. One day, my friend, One day…’

Denzel stroked Oscar’s cheek and blew on his ear. Oscar leapt on him, knocking him to the ground and, planting his big paws firmly on Denzel’s shoulders, and with over-enthusiastic wagging of his long tail, licked Denzel’s face until he thought his tail might fall off. While Denzel dried himself and spat out the residue of his dog’s French kisses, Oscar pranced and jibed and ran in tight turns just for the joy of it and of being with Denzel, who laughed for the joy of being with Oscar.

Now, we have mentioned that Jonathan Bytheway was no genius but clever enough. Well, it turned out he was clever enough to get into Cambridge, just as Denzel had but two years later and without the scholarship. Denzel had been happy that his old pal could join him, and Jonathan was happy to be with a friend. The novelty soon wore off, though, at least as far as Jonathan was concerned. He saw how well Denzel was doing and how big a favourite he was with the faculty, whereas he himself was just a nobody who could not even get into the Fourth XI cricket team. He soon learnt that knowing Denzel opened doors to him. He changed his course after the first term, leaving History in his past and reading Psychology instead, just to get in better with Denzel’s circles. He knew that Denzel was going places and thought he might as well go with him.

Denzel flew through his finals and achieved his remarkable double-first. Jonathan was relieved that Denzel stayed on to do his PhD, enabling him to continue to practice his parasitism. Denzel began making remarkable discoveries and built the first device that was able to translate signals collected from the optical cortex of a laboratory rat into images displayed on a computer screen – all without harming the animal, of course. For the first time in history, man was able to see the world as seen by another animal. The device became global news within hours of its first demonstration at a conference in Singapore. Denzel became a major celebrity, at least in scientific circles. The only remarkable discovery that Jonathan had ever made was that the dogs in Cambridge were much better disposed towards him than those back in Pontypridd.

Denzel’s mother finally made the move to be with him in Cambridge, having given up all hope of her stupid pig of a husband ever seeing sense, and Oscar was overjoyed to be reunited with his master. Nancy came to visit a couple of times but told Denzel that she had met someone else. Denzel was smitten for a few days but Oscar soon cheered him up.

Oscar got to work on a project of his own. Gradually, over a few months, Jonathan found that all the dogs in Cambridge changed their opinions of him. He tried showering twice a day and using different aftershave but nothing he did had any effect; he even tried not showering for a month but all that did was to make the girls stay away. For some reason that he never traced back to Oscar’s arrival, dogs just seemed to go off him.

Oscar was more than happy to help Denzel with his work. For one thing, it did not hurt at all, for another, it made Denzel very happy, and for yet another, it meant that he got to go to work with Denzel every day. Very soon, the device was producing incredibly clear, real-time images and found a ready market in search and rescue work, where rodents were able to get into spaces impassable to dogs, and in military applications, where dolphins and seals gave good service in the marine environment, and cows in fields became virtually unnoticeable forward observation posts (they were only virtually unnoticeable because, being short-sighted animals, they had to wear contact lenses (bifocal ones, so they could still see their food) which made them blink a lot. The Chinese invented the Bovine Blink-rate Analyser, and the usefulness of the cow as a military device passed into oblivion). The consumer market came up with a SWYDS device that had an electrode-impregnated pilot’s flying helmet for a dog and a pair of what looked like sunglasses for the owner. Soon, ‘See What Your Dog Sees’ was everyone’s favourite game, and was even quite useful when walking home from the pub after dark.

Cambridge University, and the now Professor Denzel Jones, made an awful lot of money through the technology company set up by the University. Jonathan, thanks to his friend, got a high-flying job in the company and also made a lot of money: perhaps received a lot of money would be a better way of putting it. Fortunately, the technology was in such demand that Jonathan’s total incompetence in business made no difference at all to the profits; apart from his vast expenditure on entertaining potential customers at England cricket matches all over the world.

One day, Jonathan Bytheway had a devious thought: why not set up his own company in direct competition? He had free access to the research and development programmes at the university and, provided he was careful about what he stole, and made sure his name was kept out of things, he could make a fortune of his own. Anyway, competition was good for progress… Needless to say, the wicket on which Jonathan Bytheway was now batting was a sticky one – but not for the obvious reason that might come to mind…

Denzel sat down with Oscar one day and started to talk to him. ‘Oscar, old boy. I’m ready to begin the greatest and most important work I’ve ever done.’ Oscar cocked his head to one side, pricked up his ears and wagged his tail. ‘I’m going to begin the fulfilment of my greatest ambition – to find out what goes on inside your mind. The visual device was just the beginning, you see, what I really want to do is to understand how your mind works and communicate with you.’

Oscar flopped his long, pink tongue out of the side of his mouth, and panted. He wanted to tell Denzel that living among the English had affected his accent but all he said was, ‘Arruff!’

Denzel worked long hours into the night for many a month, with Oscar his constant companion and Research Associate. One night, at about two o’clock in the morning, Denzel made his astonishing breakthrough. He suddenly saw in his mind a rabbit running for its life and being followed by a black blob flanked by a golden, carpet-like surface. Down at his feet lay Oscar sleeping in his flying helmet, panting like he was in a greyhound race, and all his legs twitching to match. Denzel closed his eyes to see the image more clearly. He was watching Oscar’s dream! The black spot was Oscar’s nose, and the carpet actually the sides of his snout. The rabbit ran down a hole and the world went suddenly black as Oscar’s head got jammed into the opening. With a yelp, Oscar sat up, and was obviously surprised that he was in a laboratory and not in a field with his head stuck down a hole. He looked around for Denzel and, seeing him, wagged his tail. Denzel felt warm, comfortable feelings of safety sweep over him. ‘Good boy, Oscar,’ he said, and Oscar stood up to lick Denzel’s outstretched hand. Happiness and adoration were Denzel’s next sensations. He reached down and hugged Oscar, thinking, and you’re so very special too. Oscar’s tail wagged more broadly than it have ever done before, and he lay on the floor and rolled onto his back, and wriggled about as though he was the happiest dog that had ever walked the Earth; and, truly, he was, for he was the first dog ever to really know how his master felt about him.

Denzel looked at the clock and, seeing how early it had become, he yawned and said out loud, ‘I think we should go home and get some sleep.’ He stretched, yawned again, and reached across to turn off the equipment. His great fatigue overcame him and he drifted off to sleep for a few minutes. Oscar was very surprised, and not a little shocked, at what he then saw happening between his master and the girl he called Nancy…

Denzel and Oscar lay in the next morning but when they awoke, Denzel could not get ready quick enough. He was overjoyed at the success of his new mind-link machine, and he could barely wait to get to work and explore his new relationship with his best and truest friend. Oscar, had he been able to understand what was going on, would have felt much the same. As it was, he felt much the same anyway.

Denzel was disappointed when, having reached the lab, fitted Oscar with his helmet, switched on the machine, and being just about to don his own helmet, his personal assistant rang with news of an unexpected visit from a highly-respected professor from America. He gave Oscar a doggie-biscuit, made sure he had fresh water in his bowl, and then went off to greet the visitor. Oscar settled down to sleep through the waiting until his master’s return.

Not many minutes had passed before Oscar was awoken by the opening of the lab door. Expecting the return of Denzel, he climbed quickly to his feet, the wagging of his tail beginning as soon as it had enough space in which to swing. The tail drooped and fell motionless as soon as Oscar got a whiff of the visitor’s scent. It was not Denzel, it was Jonathan Bytheway whose figure stepped into view and whose face wore a furtive expression.

‘Hello Oscar,’ said the intruder, ‘Is your master not here?’ Oscar did not bother to reply but turned around three or four times before settling once more in his favourite spot. ‘Hmm, what’s this?’ asked Jonathan Bytheway, picking up the helmet that Denzel had in readiness for his own use. He looked at Oscar and saw that he was wearing a helmet, and wondered. He pulled on the helmet and sat in Denzel’s chair at the controls of the machine, a pointless act since none of the controls meant anything to him; it just seemed to be the right place to sit. He did not notice that his elbow jogged a knob labelled ‘Amplifier’ as, with a startled expression, he turned to face Oscar. His head had been filled with a sense of intense dislike, suspicion and disdain; and for some reason, the intensity of the sensations had just gone up an order of magnitude. Oscar too looked up from where he lay, his own mind playing host to subterfuge, deceit and fraud – not that he knew that he was feeling those things exactly, but he knew he did not like what he felt. Being a reasonably intelligent canine, and having listened very carefully to what Denzel had tried to explain to him, and seeing Jonathan Bytheway wearing Denzel’s hat, Oscar put two and two together and made, well, more than two anyway: Jonathan Bytheway was up to no good! That was good enough for Oscar. He leapt to his feet and lunged in a fit of ferocious barking and slavering that made Jonathan Bytheway fall off the chair. What he could only describe later as a huge surge of primeval something-or-other flooded his mind as Oscar’s teeth approached his throat. As he fell to the ground, he tore off the helmet, and did the only thing he knew that could stop such an impending onslaught: he rolled onto his back, with his knees in the air and apart, his arms bent at the elbows, his wrists bent limply, and, extending his neck, he turned his face away from Oscar. Oscar came to a sudden stop, his teeth around his victim’s throat, applying a threatening and sharply-pointed pressure. Oscar growled deeply from the back of his throat, and Jonathan Bytheway cringed and cowered for all he was worth.

Just at that point, the lab door opened again. Oscar turned away from his quarry and trotted off to greet his master. Jonathan Bytheway rose to his feet, brushing himself off and shaking his head.

‘Hello, Jonathan,’ said Denzel, cheerily, ‘I’ve made an astounding breakthrough! Perhaps I can explain it to you later over dinner?’ He pulled on his helmet as he spoke and, taken a little unawares, turned the knob labelled ‘Amplifier’ until he could once again discern his own thoughts among the mush in his head.

‘Er…,’ said Jonathan Bytheway, suddenly drooling at the mere mention of food, ‘that would be lovely.’ Wiping his mouth, he made his excuses and left in an unusual hurry. The door slammed behind him as he went. Denzel patted Oscar, and Oscar licked Denzel’s hand. A sudden scream from the corridor sent Denzel scampering to find out what was wrong. As he emerged from the lab, he saw Jonathan Bytheway loping off as quickly as he could, and his distraught personal assistant coming back out of her office with a large umbrella wielded over her head.

‘What’s going on?’ asked Denzel.

‘That disgusting little man!’ spat his personal assistant, ‘He’s like an animal!’

‘What happened, Hermione?’ Denzel asked her, Hermione being her name.

‘He bumped into me in the corridor, and he got down on all fours and he pushed his nose…’ she stopped suddenly, horrified that she very nearly actually gave voice to what had happened. ‘He…’

‘He did what, Hermione?’

She paused, searching for the politest why of putting it that she could. Eventually, she said. ‘He…, he sniffed me. Like a dog!’ Oscar, finding that he understood most of what was going on by virtue of his mind-link with Denzel, immediately approached Hermione and, by way of explanation, demonstrated to Denzel what she meant. ‘Get off me, you disgusting hound!’ she shouted.

‘Oscar! Come away,’ said Denzel to his dog. ‘Sorry,’ he said to Hermione, ‘he’s only saying hello.’

The sound of a loud commotion was heard from the lift lobby at the far end of the corridor. Denzel and Oscar rushed to see what was happening. They burst through the door, to see the university’s vice-chancellor sitting on a chair in the lobby, wiping his face with a handkerchief. Our two heroes, still wearing their helmets, stopped to enquire what had just happened.

‘Has everyone gone quite mad around here?’ the VC asked, eyeing the helmeted man and dog suspiciously, as though they were confirmation of his thesis. Oscar looked up at Denzel, and Denzel looked down at Oscar. Denzel voiced what they both concluded, ‘Yes, this must look pretty silly but we are conducting a rather serious, groundbreaking experiment. Er… What just happened?’

‘That damned buffoon Bytheway just ran out through that door, planted his hands on my lapels, and licked my face all over.’ Oscar could not resist it. He rolled onto his back and wriggled with glee.

‘Where did he go?’ asked Denzel.

‘He ran off down the stairs. What the hell is wrong with him?’

‘He’s, er…, Well I’m not quite sure at the moment.’

As they ran down the stairs together, Oscar pictured for Denzel what had happened between him and Jonathan Bytheway, leaving out the part where Oscar nearly ripped his throat out – rather deviously, he thought to himself, hoping that he had not been tainted with any other undesirable human qualities. In the entrance lobby, they found a bewildered first year student, his papers scattered all over the floor and covered in soil spilt from an overturned planter.

‘What happened here?’ asked Denzel.

‘I was sitting here, reading over an essay I was about to hand in, minding my own business, when this chap ran out of the stairwell and started… well… he actually started… well, humping my leg, you know, like a dog.’ Oscar stuck his nose in the young man’s crotch, and received a slap for his troubles.

‘Never use violence on a dog!’ Denzel stated sternly, as though he were back at the Pontypridd School for Dogs, ‘Which way did he go?’

The young man pointed at a doorway, ‘I pushed him off, he knocked my essay on the floor, collided with the plant pot and ran off that way.’

Denzel and Oscar ran off in hot pursuit. Outside, they saw the deranged Jonathan Bytheway sitting down by a tree with his leg in the air, trying to get his foot behind his ear. ‘What are you doing, Jonathan?’ called out Denzel as he approached.

‘Rowf!’ Bytheway answered, ‘I’ve got an itch and I can’t reach it. You wouldn’t mind giving my ear a rub, would you?’ Just then, Jonathan Bytheway saw Oscar. He leapt to his feet; well, his hands and knees, actually. ‘Keep that vicious brute away from me!’ he shouted, ‘Woo, woo, woo, woo, woo!’ He crouched down, snarling and growling at Oscar with a threatening, wide-eyed stare and teeth all exposed. Oscar, ever the diplomat, yawned and looked away into the distance, sat down and scratched.

Security men had been called to deal with a madman on the loose and were hurrying to the scene. On seeing Jonathan Bytheway, and making a rapid assessment of what they were dealing with, they called for back-up.

Denzel made his own assessment. ‘No!’ he shouted at Jonathan Bytheway, ‘Bad boy! Be quiet!’ Jonathan Bytheway turned to look at Denzel, who was actually surprised at his friend’s response, which was to immediately shrink in stature and begin to waggle his rump as though he were wagging his tail and which, as far as Jonathan Bytheway was concerned, was exactly what he was doing. He avoided Denzel’s stern gaze, and started licking the air in appeasement. He cowered as Denzel approached and then, for the second time that day, rolled onto his back in total submission.

‘You still have it,’ Oscar planted in Denzel’s mind.

‘Yes I do,’ Denzel acknowledged.

The security men cancelled their call for backup and took charge of the crazed dog-man. They led him away to some other men who gave him to some other men who put him in a nice, soft room where he could do himself no harm – except that he almost went into renal failure because he insisted on going outside to answer calls of nature and took quite some time in communicating to his keepers what the problem was.

Later, back in the lab, Oscar and Denzel communed in the most intimate way ever known to man and dog. Oscar showed him Saber and the story he had told about Sausage, the cat, and Jonathan Bytheway, and expressed his opinion that, in the light of the day’s developments, the scores were now even – Sausage was avenged. Anticipating Denzel’s next question, which would have been, ‘What about the poor cat?’ he asked Denzel about his bitch. Denzel explained that that was not a polite way for a human male to talk about his lady friend, and how, in any case, Nancy had gone off with someone else.

Oscar said, ‘That’s no way for an alpha male to behave. You ought to fight for her.’

‘You know,’ said Denzel, scratching the back of Oscar’s ear, ‘I think you’re right. That’s exactly what I’ll do…’

And so Denzel turned to the question that he had wanted to ask for so many years. ‘Why do dogs lick their – you know – their … their dangly bits so much.’

‘Well,’ said Oscar, ‘there are two very good reasons. Firstly, one always likes to make a good impression on new acquaintances and, as you know, that is their first port of call; my front door, if you will. Secondly, well, wouldn’t you, if you could?’

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