THIS is fast turning into the worst day of Matt’s life.
They roam Fitzgerald’s Park. The flower beds bloom in yellows and reds, the air brims with cherry, the Sky Garden like a hot pink and wavy blue spaceship just landed, the trees recline in holiday mode, the benches scattered on the fountain’s edges. Parents chat about children, students pretend to study, dog walkers take a break and count their rest as exercise. It’s all lovely. Except for the fact tears stream from his eyes like the fountain, itch so bad it’s like a bee is pollinating his eyelashes, and the scent of nature has rammed up his nose so he can’t blow, only inhale.
“Hay fever is a right nightmare. Tis bad enough here, I suppose,” Barra says.
Matt tries to breathe. All he has to do is push Crunchie into the water and he’ll be rid of him.
Not even a fiver from the builders or mechanics. Barely a word of thanks from Gary the bus driver. Donna the waitress definitely won’t thank them once she’s gone on the date. Their payment for favours - nothing. For all they know, Mrs Higgins doesn’t even have a PS5. Just the box. Maybe for storing knitting materials.
Matt’s sick of this dodging dog. He’s sick of Barra. He’s sick of sniffling. He’s sick of this quest which is like the worst adventure game ever created. This trauma will put him off PlayStation games.
“I think we should quit,” he says and Barra shrugs.
“But we’ll never get a PlayStation.”
“We can’t even find a dog.”
“We’re close enough.”
“How is going from home to Fitzgerald’s Park any closer?”
They walk past the Cork Public Museum and the Pavilion of Light perched like an open pearl shell, ready to eat up the freshly cut grass (of course it’s freshly cut), its square shape a perfect stitch. Dogs doze in the shade and old men walk by in unbuttoned cardigans, foreheads like glasses of water sleeked with droplets.
A dog walker on the other side of the green battles with three leashes, one for a Boxer springing about on its thin legs, one for a Jack Russell terrier snapping at the Boxer’s heels, and another for a Cavachon straining in the opposite direction to reach an inviting-looking tree.
“Yeah, you’re right.” Barra steps back. “Time to head home.”
Matt looks across at the dog walker. No Dodger. “We might as well ask where he is.”
“Nah, sure Mrs Higgins will get a call from the rescue people. Be grand, like. We want to be making a move to catch the next bus.”
The Boxer frees himself and powers across the green. Barra freezes. Its feet pound the grass, closer and closer. Matt snatches up the lead and scratches the dog’s chin.
“You’re some dope, Crunchie.”
Barra dances away from the curious dog and Bosco, his name tag bouncing on his spiked collar, chases after him, panting away.
“Crunchie, cop on, like. The leash is tangling around me.”
“I’m OK, I’m OK,” Barra says, panting harder than the dog.
The dogs tug the dog walker over and she takes the lead from him. Her ponytail is all frazzled. There is muck on her shoes and poo bags tucked into her jeans.
“Thank you. Feckers are proper feisty today. Bold, Bosco, bold.”
“No bothers. Did you pick up a Labrador Retriever at College Road? It’s our neighbour’s, Mrs Higgins.”
“Oh, I did. Ye are very good helping her out, but I returned him 15 minutes ago. Dodger was delighted.”
That can’t be right. “Mrs Higgins?”
“Yeah. Planned on calling CSPCA but bumped into her. Checked the tag to be sure and she called him Dodger. Said they’re off busking now.”
Barra scratched his head. “Mrs Higgins busks?”
“No, Crunchie,” Matt hisses. Last thing the girl needs is more stress from giving the dog to the wrong person.
The dogs yank their leashes, and she tries to wave. “Thanks for the help!”
Barra frowns. “I’m confused.”
“We’ve to find a busker who knows Dodger. Come on, think. Can’t be many.”
Barra shakes his head.
Oh s**t. What if this girl beats them to the PS5?
“Don’t matter. It’s a clue. Let’s go!”