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"HOWLIDAY Inn" was what Chester called Chateau Bow-Wow, the boarding kennel where we'd once spent an eventful week -- the very week, in fact, of Howie's birth.
"Aside from your being born there," Chester told Howie as the three of us lurched about in the back of the Monroe's station wagon on the way to our -- what had Chester called it again? Oh, yes, our doom -- "the place is nothing but bad vibes. In the space of one week, Howie, one week, there was poisoning, kidnapping, attempted murder, howling in the night -- "
"That's not so bad, Pop," Howie said. "Most movies have all that stuff in less than two hours. And you have to pay for it!"
"That may be," Chester said, slipping from sight as he lowered himself to the bottom of his carrier, "but this is not a movie, Howie. It's reality."
I wanted to remind Howie that Chester's definition of reality was not necessarily a match for Webster's, but I was feeling a little too carsick at the moment to do anything more than groan.
I groaned the rest of the way to Chateau Bow-Wow.
At first glance, the place looked as I remembered it: a large, creepy house high on a hill with a compound of cages behind it. The compound was surrounded by a tall wooden fence. There was a gate in the fence and a sign on the gate welcoming us. I noticed the sign had been changed. It used to read A SPECIAL BOARDING HOUSE FOR SPECIAL CATS AND DOGS. Now CATS AND DOGS had been replaced by PETS. I wondered at the change. Noticing that change brought other changes to my attention. The house and the cages had been repainted. There were some new shrubs here and there in the compound and the rickety wooden fence had been reinforced by a metal one.
Something more than paint and shrubs was different though. I couldn't put my paw on it, but there was something missing.
Shortly after the Monroes left, Chester, Howie, and I found ourselves standing in the center of the compound in the midday sun. The air was as still as a puppy who's just chewed a hole in the carpet and hears her master's key in the door.
Howie looked around in awe. "So this is where I was born," he said. I followed his gaze as he turned to take it all in. The grassy compound was surrounded on three sides by seemingly empty cages -- I made a mental note to tell Howie that at Chateau Bow-Wow "cages" are called "bungalows" -- behind which stood the wood-and-metal fence. The fourth wall of the compound was actually the back wall of the house with an extension of fence going out from one corner. There was a door in the wall leading into Dr. Greenbriar's office and a gate in the fence leading outside.
It was incredibly quiet.
"Must be siesta time," Chester quipped.
I nodded in agreement.
Howie sniffed the air. "Maybe we're the only ones here."
That's when it hit me. The big difference in Chateau Bow-Wow was that our friends weren't there. Max, Louise, Georgette, Taxi, Howard and Heather, even crazy Lyle -- they had been what had made Chateau Bow-Wow so, shall we say, unique. I couldn't imagine the place without them.
A lump was forming in my throat when all at once I heard a familiar voice call out, "Harold! Chester! And oh, my gosh, is that little Howie?"
I turned. There at the door to the office stood Jill, an old friend. She flung her arms open wide and ran toward us, tripping on a tree root. Another girl followed on the first girl's heels.
Jill gave me a big hug around the neck as I licked her face.
"Do you two know each other?" Howie asked, and he added, "Just a hunch."
"This is Jill," I told him. "She works here. Last time, there was another helper, a real clown named Harrison, but I don't think -- "
"Oh, it's so good to see you guys," Jill squealed. "I just got to work and Dr. Greenbriar said you were here. I'm his assistant now, isn't that neat? Of course, Harrison...you remember Harrison."
Chester rolled his eyes.
"Well, Harrison has started his own comic book company, so I've taken his job for the summer. And Daisy helps me." She nodded at the other girl.
Daisy looked like a daisy. She had this big, open face and wild, yellow hair. She was also what we pets call a "gusher."
"Oooooh," she crooned, grabbing Howie and squeezing him so tight his eyes bulged, "You are SOOO cute. I could just eat you up, little puppy."
Howie licked Daisy, which only made her giggle and gush some more. "You're just as cute as the dickens," she said. "How about if I call you Dickens?"
"How about if she calls me a cab?" Chester muttered. "I want outta here."
Glancing at the fence, I thought, Not much chance of anybody getting out of this place.
"Daisy," I heard Jill say then, "I'm afraid you're going to have to put Howie down for now. "
"Aw, do I have to?"
"'Fraid so. We really need to finish getting the bungalows ready for these guys."
Daisy nozzled Howie's nose. "Goodbye, Dickens," she said. "Hug ya later, okay?"
She put Howie gently back on the ground and the two girls walked away. Howie couldn't take his eyes off Daisy. "She's cute," he said with a sigh. "Gee, Uncle Harold, is this what they call puppy love?"
Before I could answer, Chester shook his head and started to walk away. "Dogs," he muttered.
As if on cue, two dogs poked their heads out from behind one of the far bungalows. "Hello!" shouted the smaller one. "I'm Linda!"
"And I'm Bob!" shouted the other. "Care to join us for a little barbecue?"