Written a while ago, this item needs guts. Please help!
"Damn! Where's that handkerchief?"
Tom used up a lot of handkerchiefs. They always seemed to be elsewhere when he needed them. He wiped his shirttail over his face, and pushed the big dog off at arm's length.
"Down, Slurp, you gigantic slimeball! Give me a minute to get your drool out of my eyes."
Slurp, a big, woolly St. Bernard, sat obediently and wagged his tail. He always did what Tom told him. Sometimes, though, Tom just wasn't quick enough to avoid Slurp's wet tongue. Often he didn't mind it, but the tall, flannel-shirted back country guide was hoping to make a good impression on the pretty park ranger walking with him toward the small plane, and she'd already had more of Slurp than she wanted. Tom could tell by the expression on her face.
Living with Slurp, Tom had gotten used to drool, the way cat owners get used to shedding hair, and baby owners get used to diapers. It's not their favorite item, but it's part of the package. Slurp's owner just didn't notice the drool much anymore.
Visitors did, though.
"Eeyich! Get off me!" they'd bellow, or, "Oooh, I'm all wet now!"
Some just shuddered and backed out the door.
Over the ten years since college that Tom had lived there, slime-intolerant visitors had quit coming to the cabin, even though the small island adjacent to a national park on which it was located was a great site for bass fishing, and had a dock for mooring sailboats and pontoon planes.
On this late summer day a small plane had splashed down while Slurp and Tom were fishing on the lake. Slurp loved visitors. He bounded out of the rowboat, overturning it, and swam to the dock to greet the plane.
Four people had climbed out onto the dock by the time Slurp rushed up, barking and drooling. Three of the visitors managed to hoist hemselves back up into the plane in a hurry, but the last one, the park ranger, found herself soaked as Slurp stopped his welcome long enough to shake drool and lake water over her from head to foot.
Slurp's owner had made it to shore by this time. He came running up and grabbed his dog.
"I'm so sorry. Slurp loves to greet visitors, and I can't always stop him." He glanced over at the petite, young woman, her short blond hair dripping, who stood frowning before him in a very wet park ranger's uniform. A male ranger and two sheriff's deputies climbed cautiously out of the plane behind her.
"I'm Katherine Baker." She tried to force a public-relations smile. "We're searching for a runaway juvenile in this area. We've heard of your reputation as a field botanist and guide, and were hoping you might help us. We also hoped maybe your dog would be an asset." Her expression said she thought this doubtful, but was willing for any help she could get.
"Tom Garvin." He felt again for his handkerchief, and then wiped his hand on his jeans before holding it out to her. "Why don't you all come inside and we can talk over what kind of help I can give you--we'll leave Slurp outside and fill him in on the details later."
At the mention of the dog's name Katherine's eyebrows shot up, but Slurp barked, happy to be recognized. They all crowded into the cabin, where Tom made coffee while Katherine washed her hands and face in the bathroom, and squeezed some of the water out of her shirt.
Over coffee they discussed the details; teenager last seen fishing at the public boat dock down the lake from the island. Canoe missing overnight. Distraught, wealthy parents clamoring for fast action from the park service and the sheriff's office.
If I had an overbearing mother like that kid has, I might turn up missing, too," put in one of the deputies.
"We were hoping," Katherine shot a repressive glance in the direction of the deputy, "that you could suggest some places near here to look. A secluded cove, where the canoe could be hidden, something like that."
"Well, yeah, there's a place with some caves down the lake a-ways." Tom's attention was distracted by the snuffling sounds coming from behind the closed front door. Slurp wasn't used to being left outside.
"Would you come with us in the plane and show us?" Katherine asked.
"I'd be happy to," Tom answered, and they walked out of the cabin to be welcomed by an joyful Slurp.
Katherine backed away a step or two. "Do you have a leash for the dog?"
"Don't you like dogs, Ms. Baker?" Tom held onto Slurp's collar, controlling him easily as they walked toward the plane.
"No. I own a cat," she answered over her shoulder as she moved ahead of the group.
The plane touched down, and chugged up to an old, abandoned boat dock. Slurp bounced out, and began eagerly exploring along the bank. He whined suddenly, and plunged into the undergrowth. Tom followed him up the pier and into the brush. As he reached the big dog, he found him happily chewing one end of a rope attached to an old aluminum canoe marked "Bob's Bait, #2" on its side. A ragged hole in the bottom testified to the reason it had been abandoned. The short, slobbery, frayed end of rope attached to its bow testified to Slurp.
"The boy must be somewhere close by," Tom told the others. "This is an island. It's a long swim back to the bait shop."
The party started along the water's edge, looking for signs that someone had recently gone before them.
Katherine distanced herself from the others, hoping to avoid dog slobber for a few minutes. Suddenly, the St. Bernard crashed through the bushes, knocking Katherine off her feet. His body blocking the trail, he began to growl low in his throat. Katherine scrambled up behind him.
"What is it, fella?" She peered around him, and spotted a cougar hissing and arching its back from the top of a large boulder only a few feet away. Slurp barked, and the gigantic cat took to its heels and vanished. Slurp moved forward and began to explore the path ahead.
"That was great work, Slurp," Katherine caught up with him and patted his head. "You're quite the bodyguard." His long tongue covered her hand with slime, but this time she only sighed and wiped her hands on her uniform pants.
"Slurp flushed a cougar," Katherine told the others as they rendezvoused a few minutes later. "We have to find that boy."
At the end of another hour's hot, sweaty trek, Slurp began to bark.
"Help! Hey, I'm here!"
All the searchers crashed through brush, following the sounds. Tom was first to reach the mouth of a cave where Slurp's plume of a tail stuck out, wagging back and forth. The dog filled the opening. Katherine ran up to them.
"I'm in here!" called a weak voice from beyond Slurp.
"Slurp! Come out of there so we can get in." Tom gave his dog a shove, and then squeezed into the cave, where he found a bedraggled teenage boy lying with his foot propped up and bound with a red bandanna.
"Are you okay, son?" Tom reached down to examine the boy's foot.
"I think my ankle's broken. I got myself in here for shelter, but I can't stand on it now. Do you have anything to eat?" The boy looked about fifteen. His long hair was dirty, hanging down the back of his neck from under an even dirtier baseball cap. He was trying not to look too glad to see them.
Katherine poked her head into the cave, alongside Slurp, who began to lick the boy's face. That got a smile from him, and Katherine began to feel rather fond of the big dog.
Slurp turned from the boy and licked her ear, which she wiped absently with the back of her hand before getting a candy bar and some water out of her pack.
"Here, kid, start on this."
"What a great dog!" The boy left off rubbing Slurp long enough to gobble down the candy and take a long drink. He managed to keep both out of Slurp's reach.
"He's not so bad for a big, hairy monster." Katherine patted Slurp. Tom glanced up from his first aid, startled at the ranger's change of heart. He was in time to see the dog's long, dripping tongue plant another wet kiss on Katherine's face. She shook off some of the drool.
"Tom, do you have a handkerchief?"