No Pets Allowed was the sign above the porch that made Mavis Davis particularly proud. Mavis Davis was the kind of woman who had cruelty coursing through her veins. She was that certain kind of person who just seemed to hate other people. Her decision to open a Care Home was an odd choice as she spent her days making a living by caring for old people whom she hated with a warped passion.
Yet beyond her feelings for her charges she hated another type of being even more. Davis hated all dogs the way some people love all children, whether their own or others. Davis could not bear to have them near her. She did not care about their breed or type or shape or size.
When she looked out of the bay window of The Quarry Home on that ordinary autumn day in 2019, Davis felt a surge of rage rise within her as she caught sight of a resident with a dog. Maureen, the new resident, was nonchalantly stroking the head of a Jack Russell terrier.
Davis flung open the French doors and let them swing on the hinges as she raced down to the gazebo as fast as she could manage. As she reached Maureen she shouted, ‘what do you think you’re doing? Who let that mutt into my home?’
‘But Mavis, I-…’, Maureen started to say.
‘I’ve told you once, I’ve told you twice, I will tell you for final time. I don’t want any putrid pooches in my home. Why have you disobeyed my order?’
‘Listen, Maureen, I’ve told you before. It is Miss Davis to you. Now what is your story?’
‘Sorry Miss Davis. Only I didn’t know he was here.’
‘What? Are you serious? Don’t take me for a fool. It’s your mongrel isn’t it?’
‘Yes it’s my dog, but I didn’t know he was here. I heard him bark as I was strolling through the grounds. I was having a walk by myself before I went to bed. Then I saw him.’
‘Do you really expect me to believe such nonsense? You planned it and what’s more you deliberately flouted my orders.’ As she spoke she distractedly touched her face. She ran her index finger down a long scar on her right cheek.
‘Listen, Miss Davis. You had better watch what you say. Don’t you dare accuse me of telling lies. Indeed I really don’t care whether you believe me or not because what I’ve told you is true.’ Davis held no fear for Maureen as she used to be a ferocious lawyer in her day. There was a time when she would have given Davis such a tongue-lashing she would have whipped her into a silent wreck. Her tongue was still sharp and blunt.
‘We’ll let that lie for the moment. That mutt is not staying in my home. I’ll call Jack Ketch. He’ll collect him within an hour. Ketch will do to him what they should do to all dogs.’
‘That’s a cruel thing to say. Then again, it’s all I could expect from someone like you.’
‘Right then that’s it. I’ve had enough. You can pack your bags too. You’re leaving as well. Your smelly dog will be out of here today. You will be gone tomorrow.’
‘But Miss Davis, I’ve nowhere else to go. Can’t I stay until I find another Home to go to?’
‘No. That’s your problem, not mine. You made your bed, now you must lie in it – or not as the case may be.’
‘Very well, if that’s your decision, have it your own way. Can I just say goodbye to Pebble?’
‘If you must, but don’t take day about it. Ketch will soon be on his way. So get on with it.’
Davis turned her back on Maureen, hurried back to her office and immediately called Ketch.
Pebble stood as tall as a Jack Russell terrier could and put his paws on the windowsill. Maureen reached over and stroked his head. A few tears rolled slowly down her cheek and landed on his ear. Pebble shook his head to flick away her tears.
‘Pebble, my life has been better because you came into it. Now you’re going to be outside it there is no reason left for me to live.’
Pebble looked at Maureen. Though he couldn’t understand her words, he could tell that it was not good for her and worse for him.
‘You see, I’m like Midas in reverse. Everything I touch turns to dust and rust. Even before I met you I had to care for the only man I ever loved and let him down. When Douglas returned from the concentration camp with P-TSD and really needed me, I failed to save him. It was another failure on my long list of faults.’
Pebble stared at her. He saw the gathering mist in her eyes. Laughter that had been there moments earlier had disappeared.
‘The memory of Douglas still haunts me to this day. Then when he was gone I let him down again. I was pregnant with our only child, Clare. Clare was born just after he passed away. She was stricken with a strange disease, then got sick and died before her fifteenth birthday. Another failure as her mother so now Clare is gone too.’
Pebble cocked his head and looked as if he shared the sadness and pain etched on her face. She had ‘rescued’ him when his life was in peril. Although when she spoke about him Maureen often said that he had saved her life. The raw truth was they had saved each other.
‘Pebble, this is goodbye. You are the only good thing in my life and now that has turned bad. In this forsaken place I’d probably end up with Alzheimer’s anyway so I wouldn’t even know myself or you. I hope I will see you again in another place and another time. Remember that as long as I have a memory I will never forget you. Goodbye Pebble.’
She placed a finger kiss on his forehead and slowly walked away.
As she did so Ketch arrived, hotfoot and breathless, then grabbed Pebble’s collar and dragged him out of the gazebo.
Maureen went to her room. She picked up the full bottles of bright red and yellow tablets. She had to take one of each every day. Maureen tipped some tablets from both bottles into her hand and in two gulps swiftly swallowed the pile. She swigged them down with a mouth wash of whiskey that she had smuggled in passed the ever-watchful eye of Davis in breach of one of her petty rules.
Maureen cast a last glance at the paper knife that Douglas had carved for her when he was imprisoned in the Japanese POW camp. It was all she possessed that reminded her of him. One item was all that Davis allowed her to keep.
Before she fell asleep all the sorrow of her life crowded across her furrowed brow. Douglas and Clare played out in scenes of the misery she had visited upon them. Then she saw Pebble being beaten by a passing traveller. She attacked the gypsy with her furled umbrella him and rescued the mangy emaciated mongrel. Then she heard Pebble barking to alert the postman so she was rescued and taken to the Hospital after another fall. Her life was an action replay in slow motion.
‘Come on, it’s time to go,’ said Ketch. He pulled Pebble along and slung him into the van. He held the lead tightly and whipped it across Pebble’s back as he entered the cage. Then he whipped him again. Pebble growled as Ketch he shut the cage door and locked it.
Ketch arrived at the pound just after closing time. All the resident dogs began barking at the sight of Ketch and Pebble. They seemed to know he was a new prisoner being delivered to the cell. Pebble was unnerved by the noise, the sheer number of dogs and the incessant snarling. Cage after cage was filled with dogs. Ketch went to the first cage and opened it and removed the small sad-eyed spaniel, Sam. Ketch put Sam in another cage. He dragged Pebble and pushed him into the vacant cage. He locked the cage. That meant Pebble was the next dog to die.
The next day Ketch went to that cage straightaway to deliver Pebble for the lethal needle. Ketch saw Pebble was still sleeping. He got a stick and pulled it across the iron bars to make a terrible racket so all the dogs were immediately frightened. As most of them had been abused by former owners and strangers, they started to panic. They all howled though there was no moon.
Pebble was already wide awake and played possum to fool Ketch. Pebble appeared to wake up and then deliberately cowered in fear in the corner. Ketch figured that as Pebble was frightened he would be as docile as the others. Ketch grabbed him, placed him on the tarmac and shouted, ‘Stay there. Don’t move!’
Pebble lowered his head a little to the left. He hunched his shoulders. He made himself appear small and weak, without energy or will.
Ketch picked him up to take him to his death. He slung Pebble over his shoulder. As Ketch did so, with all the strength he could muster, Pebble planted his teeth firmly on Ketch’s neck and sunk his teeth deep into the fleshy loose massive double-chin hanging there. A fountain of blood spurted from Ketch’s neck, causing him to swear and shout out in pain. As Ketch reached out for his throat he dropped Pebble.
Pebble uncoiled his body, then sprang away and sprinted for his life out of the pound, over the gate, onto the road and dodging the traffic, retraced his steps to try and find Maureen.
In no time he arrived at The Quarry. Pebble crept around the back, slunk down in the bushes, hid in the gazebo until the night gave him cover. He curled around, soon sleeping the sleep of the innocent.
Pebble was in a deep sleep dreaming about chasing the neighbourhood cats when the silent night was shattered by the sound of breaking glass. The sharp sound rent the night asunder. His ears pricked and twitched when he traced the sound and realised it came from the direction of Maureen’s room. At first Pebble was riddled with fear. Then he knew what he had to do. He sprang up at the window that was left on the latch by Mick the handyman yesterday, to give him some air. Although that would lead to his dismissal, Mick had his own reasons for helping the homeless stray. He jumped out and raced towards Maureen’s window as if his heart and tail was on fire. As he reached it he saw the black-clad shadowy figure of a fat man with a balaclava climbing through the broken window into her room.
Maureen had taken enough pills that night to deaden a horse. Nevertheless she was always a light sleeper. She could hear a midnight mouse scrambling for cheese. The impact of the smashed glass broke the silence of her sleep. She heard the stranger climb into her room. Odd though it was in the circumstances, she was frightened for her life. Her heart jumped so hard and fast against her chest she felt it was going to explode. She managed to get out of bed. Her heart pumped as fast as a piston. Fumbling on the dressing table, she grabbed her paper-knife.
‘Who are you?’ Maureen screamed. ‘What do you want?’
‘Shut up, bitch! Where’s your money,’ the burglar shouted.
‘Get out you sod!’ Maureen screamed, even louder ‘Go to hell. Bugger off.’
Hearing her screams shoot through the quiet night cut Pebble to the bone. With some super strength he seemed to find from somewhere, he jumped on the edge of the ledge and scrambled through the window. He saw the burglar going towards Maureen. She was striking out wildly while shouting and swearing at him. Maureen was ready for the fight of her life.
Mavis Davis was fast asleep. She woke instantly when she heard the barking and noise and yelping from Maureen’s room. Still in her nightdress she said aloud to herself, ‘that woman has defied me again. What is she doing with that dog in her bedroom? Well I’ll throw them both out the window.’
Davis burst into Maureen’s room. As she did so she shouted, ‘What do you think-…’ Before she could finish her threat the burglar smashed his clenched fist onto her jaw. She was stunned by the force of the blow and collapsed on the floor.
Pebble bit the burglar on both ankles. He jumped up and clenched his teeth around the burglar’s wrist. The burglar forced his jaws open and flung Pebble to the floor. He kicked Pebble hard, a jackboot kick with such a thud it smashed his ribs. The burglar then turned towards Maureen. Pebble tried to jump up again, but exhausted and overcome by pain, he dropped in mid-air as solid as a stone onto Maureen’s feet. When Pebble dropped onto her she lost her balance, then tripped and stumbled and fell. Maureen lurched forward, grabbed the burglar with both hands to steady herself, so they overbalanced and fell heavily to the floor.
Pandemonium broke out throughout The Quarry. The smashed glass, the screams, the swearing and the noisy din in the dead of night, caused the whole household to spring into life. The night duty staff burst through Maureen’s door at once. When they saw the result it shot a shock through them: there were three bodies lying in a pool of rapidly spreading blood.
‘Oh, Maureen,’ said Annie, the resident nurse, ‘What has happened to you?’ When she saw the burglar she said to the trainee nurse, ‘Sarah, call an ambulance.’
‘Don’t touch them,’ said Keith, the first aider. ‘Leave them in that position. Get the Doctor. James Orlsson is on duty. I spoke to him earlier. Tell him it’s an emergency.’
‘What about the little doggie?’ asked Marie, the Scottish care worker. ‘He seems to be in a very bad way.’ She picked Pebble up and stroked him. His fur moved as he shook. In seconds the front of her uniform was covered in patches of his blood. ‘I’ll call the vet. Mr. Priest will know what to do with him.’ She grabbed a blanket from Maureen’s bed and wrapped it around Pebble.
In minutes Priest’s car tyres screeched across the cobblestones. Priest was unshaved, no tie, no jacket, just his little black bag. Priest looked at Pebble. He said nothing. Priest opened his bag, got out a hypodermic needle and injected Pebble. He immediately went limp in Marie’s arms. Pebble looked so serene he appeared to be already dead. ‘Please carry him to my car. I’ll have to operate on him at once. Time is of the essence.’
‘Will he be all right?’ asked Marie.
‘Tell you the truth, it’s touch-and-go. He’s lost an awful lot of blood. He’s in deep shock. Whatever happened almost killed him. He may not survive.’
Dr Orlsson arrived and examined all the people. He left the burglar where he was and said, ‘Don’t touch him. Just leave him in that position.’ There was no time for his ‘bedroom manner’.
‘We’ll have to get this lady to hospital immediately. Call for an ambulance.’ He ordered Louise, the senior nurse, to undertake the task.
‘We’ve already done so,’ she said.
‘Good. Please just hold her steady, the two of you while I inject her.’ He injected Maureen much as Priest had injected Pebble moments earlier. Like him, she became weak. She was covered in blood. Louise wiped it away. It was smeared all over her nightdress.
‘How is she, Doctor?’ asked Marie.
‘She’s in a bad way. She has suffered a traumatic event. How old is she?’
‘She’s in her 90’s.’, said Louise.
‘I see. Contact the surgeon and tell him as she won’t be able to withstand a heavy a dose of anaesthetic.’
The ambulance arrived and the paramedics, Brian and Cathy, took Maureen away on a stretcher. .
‘What about this lady? Was she attacked too?’ Orlsson asked.
‘I’m not sure,’ said Norman, the boiler man. ‘That’s the Manager. She’s just a wimp. The sight of blood was probably too much for her to take.’
‘Mmm. I see.’ Orlsson relaxed a little and added, ‘She’ll be waking soon, even in a drowsy state she’ll hear you, so be careful what you say.’
‘What about him, Doctor?’ asked Harry, the chef, pointing to the burglar.
‘Call the police. I’ll wait until they come.’
‘I’ve already done so,’ Keith said. ‘They should be here soon. They’re only coming from the Trinity Police Station.’
PC Pratt arrived promptly at The Quarry and was directed to Maureen’s room.
‘There he is Officer,’ said Dr Orlsson, ‘I’ve left him exactly where he was as you might need to arrange for an examination by the forensic team.’
‘Will that serve any purpose, Doctor?”
‘Well that’s a matter for you. You might need an orthodontist to identify the man.’
‘Oh, there’s no need for that Doctor. I know who he is,’ said Pratt. ‘That’s Kevin Cloy. A third-generation burglar, though the fourth one is waiting to be born. Cloy has already been in and out of Strangeways so many times he’s no longer a stranger to any of the prison officers. I expect he’ll go back there for another stretch.’
‘I doubt that Officer,’ said Orlsson.
‘You do? Why do you say that, Doctor?’ asked Pratt. ‘Caught-in-the-act ain’t he?’
Without a word the doctor pointed to the right-hand side of Cloy’s throat which had been hidden from Pratt’s view. Pratt squatted down and saw something protruding from the burglar’s flushing jugular that had caused him to choke on his own blood. Her life was saved by the paper-knife.
Maureen was sat in her favourite chair. She looked as happy as a teenager in love for the first and last time. Her face was bathed with a secret smile. She looked down. She was happy. Asleep at her feet, bandaged from head to tail like a shrunken mummy, lay Pebble.
There was a hesitant knock at the door. Maureen said, ‘Please come in.’
She was surprised and slightly embarrassed to see Davis. She went to stand up.
‘Hello, Maureen,’ said Davis, ‘Please don’t get up. You stay where you are. You both look so comfortable.’
‘So how can I help you, Miss Davis?’
‘Please forget the formality. Call me Mavis, at least to my face. Whatever I’m called behind my back is something I’ll have to live with. Anyway how are you? How is Pebble?’
‘We’re both just fine. He’s only here on the vet’s orders, Miss Davis.’
‘No, please Maureen, call me Mavis.’
‘Is that one of your new rules?’ Davis nodded. ‘Well, if you wish, Mavis. Pebble and me, we’re on the mend. We want to forget about that ordeal and just find our own happiness for the future. You may know already, Miss Davis, I mean Mavis, we’ll we leaving The Quarry tomorrow.’
‘Oh no, I didn’t know that. Do you have to go? Where are you going?’
‘We do have to go. I want to spend my days with Pebble. I have been so unhappy here. I’ve been too miserable for too long at The Quarry. From my first day to the last I regret to say Mavis that you are to blame.’
‘I know. I know all too well. Don’t remind me. Where will you go?’
‘We have had such a kind invitation from Mick, your Handyman, to live with him. He’s only got a small flat, but I’ve known him for a while. He was sweet on Clare, my daughter, you know. They met at school. She’s…And he loves Pebble. You’re lucky to have such a kind person working for you. Without him I don’t know what I would’ve done.’
‘Oh, Maureen, I really don’t know what to say to you. My heart is shattered. The worst thing of all is I broke it myself. It will never be mended if you leave.’
‘We have to go. You don’t want us here. You don’t want Pebble. You hate dogs. You probably hate me too. You seem to hate everyone, except yourself.’
‘Maureen, please believe me when I say I’ve changed. I really have, I promise you. And I really don’t hate Pebble or you or anyone.’
‘Well that’s good news for once. At least we’ll have a pleasant memory of you.’
‘There’s one more thing I’d like to say. Will you please reconsider your decision? May I say what I have in mind?’
‘Please say whatever you want, say whatever is on your mind, we’re all ears,’ she said. Pebble’s ears pointed upwards as he opened one eye and looked at Mavis.
‘Before I do I want to tell you something I have never told anyone until now. It’s something I’ve lived with for forty years. It’s caused me such shame I can barely bring myself to share my guilty secret with you.’
‘Mavis, regardless of the situation, please feel free to say whatever troubles you. Rest assured we’ll help you if we can. I’ve had and seen enough trouble to last me more than a lifetime. So tell me, what’s your problem?’
‘My problem is worse because I am to blame for all the harm I’ve caused. You see this scar on my cheek.’ As she pointed to it her finger traced the track it followed down her face. Doris glanced at it.
‘I was bitten by an Alsatian, Sid, when I was a child. I always claimed he bit me for no reason. The truth is it was my fault. I poked a stick in the dog’s eye. He probably thought he was being attacked and jumped up at me and bit my cheek. I lied about it to my parents and the police. When the dog was taken to court I lied to the judge. I’ve used my lies as an excuse for hating dogs while the truth is I hated myself.’
‘What happened to Sid?’
‘The judge sentenced him to death. That’s why I’ve lived a lie.’
‘Since your ordeal I have dwelt on all the things I have done wrong. I have always put profits before people and gave no thought to people’s feelings, especially yours. Maureen, I have been so unkind to you and Pebble. I know I don’t deserve it, but will you ever forgive me?’
‘Yes, Mavis, if it helps you I will. Indeed we will. Pebble shares my heart and soul and life. So we do, but we’ll still be leaving The Quarry tomorrow.’
‘I hope you won’t, Maureen, because I haven’t told you what I have decided to do. Now is my last opportunity to put it right.’
‘But as Pebble has to go, I have to go. You’re also sacking Mick. He’s done nothing wrong. He just gave food and shelter to a stray starving dog. Now you’re punishing him too.’
‘That’s precisely my point. Pebble can stay here forever. I want you to stay until the end of your days too. Next week it’s Christmas. I would be honoured and grateful if you will. I am seeking your forgiveness which I desperately need. Will you please consider it?’
Maureen was blindsided by the change in Mavis Davis. She looked at Pebble and smiled. ‘Bless you, Mavis. Bless you.’ Maureen’s smile was wider than a mile. Pebble looked up at Mavis and then at Maureen and opened his mouth to show a set of gleaming teeth. If dogs can smile, Pebble did too.
All the staff and residents and visitors and volunteers gathered in the lounge of The Quarry. The balloons and cards and tree filled with ornaments signalled the new face of laughter and love for and towards all who entered the portals of The Quarry. The spirit of the season had reached into and spread through their hearts.
Mavis cleared her throat and said, ‘I will not dwell upon the episode of the burglary. We have all, especially me, learned a one of life’s hard lessons. My lesson doesn’t compare to the suffering Maureen and Pebble went through, but believe me, it is one I understand. I am re–born thanks to our resident, Maureen and Pebble. I’m so pleased to tell you that Maureen has decided to stay with us. I’m more grateful to her than words could express.’
Pebble barked. ‘Yes, you too,’ said Mavis and laughed.
The crowd clapped so hard and so long the electricity of emotion charged through the room.
‘I should add that far from sacking him, I’m promoting Mick to be Head of the Maintenance Department.’
Mavis’s throat was as dry as a bone that in another life Pebble would have buried for later. She added, ‘There is one thing left to say. Let me show you something, if I may.’
Mavis led the crowd outside to the front of The Quarry. There she pointed out the new sign to Maureen and Pebble and all the others.
The sign, No Pets Allowed, which visitors would see before they entered The Quarry was amended so ‘All’ replaced ‘No’. Immediately after reading it, but before the Meeting, Mavis altered the new sign. She crossed-out ‘Pets’ and replaced it with a single word: Animals.