Magnus locked the front door behind him. His route to the train station led across the park, past the primary school and down the High Street. ‘Tum de-dum” he sang, descending the steps in a jump. It was Friday.
Golden leaves crunched under his feet. The park was being criss-crossed by commuters, joggers, cyclists and women with pushchairs. Children were horsing about by the duck pond; one was trying to retrieve his schoolbag from the reeds.
‘Ta-dum, ta-dum, ta-dum.’
Magnus strolled past a row of brick houses, separated from the park by a hedge. A small West Highland terrier lay on the grass on the other side, watching him. It was Kinnear. Magnus had often seen Kinnear and his owner, an elderly gentleman, playing catch with a stick. A nice dog, thought Magnus. A friendly face.
‘Alright?’ he said.
He picked up a stick and lobbed it over the hedge.
Kinnear snatched it up, bustled his way under the hedge, and dropped it at Magnus’s feet.
Magnus took the stick and threw it towards the bandstand. Kinnear bolted after it. Back in a flash, he dropped it at Magnus’s feet once more.
‘Last one,’ said Magnus. ‘I don’t want to be late.’
He flung the stick high in the air. When Kinnear came scampering back, Magnus bent down and ruffled the dog’s coat. Its curly head was warm and soothing. He would have liked to stay longer. But the train was leaving in ten minutes. He had to get a move on.
‘Sorry,’ he said. He picked up the stick, tossed it over the hedge, and set off across the park. He had almost reached the bandstand when Kinnear caught up with him and spat the stick out at his feet.
‘Ah,’ said Magnus.
Kinnear looked at him, tail wagging.
Magnus picked up the stick and jogged back to the hedge, Kinnear trotting beside him. He threw the stick against the back wall of the house, turned, and ran towards the nearest tree. He hid behind it, back pressed against the trunk, waiting. Kinnear poked his head round the trunk, the stick in his jaws.
‘Fuck’s sake,’ said Magnus. He looked at his watch. Eight minutes to go.
‘Come on.’ He walked back to the hedge. It was pointless throwing the stick into the garden again. He picked Kinnear up. He was only a small thing. Checking that nobody was watching, Magnus lobbed the dog over the hedge, turned, and fled.
He was nearly at the bandstand when Kinnear came sprinting up beside him, pink tongue flapping.
‘Fuck OFF,’ Magnus ordered. But Kinnear didn’t. The two of them ran across the park. Magnus stopped for breath, leaning his arms on the primary school railings. Children were running around the playground. Kinnear barked at them.
‘That’s a nice doggy,’ said a little girl through the railings.
Magnus looked at his watch. Five minutes. He was on thin ice at work after numerous warnings about his timekeeping.
‘Here,’ said Magnus. He picked Kinnear up and handed him over the railings.
‘A doggy! A doggy!’ shouted the children.
Magnus sprinted off down the High Street. He glanced at his watch. Three minutes. The station was just round the corner. He would be okay.
There was a crowd at the station entrance. Magnus fumbled in his pocket for his ticket, put it through the turnstile and ran to the platform. He had to cross a bridge to get there. ‘Ta dum, ta diddly dee,’ he muttered as he walked down the steps. The train was approaching the station.
‘Woof!’ Kinnear came hurtling down the steps.
Magnus looked at him, horrified. The train was pulling up at the platform. Commuters shuffled towards the nearest doors, waiting for them to open.
What was he to do? The next train was in thirty minutes. He had to get on this one.
The doors opened. The people on the platform surged forward, crowding their way inside.
‘Right,’ muttered Magnus. He had a pen in his inside pocket. He took it out and waved it in front of Kinnear. ‘Fetch!’ he said, hurling the pen towards the ticket office. He squeezed onto the train just as the doors were closing. Face pressed against the window, he saw Kinnear running back with the pen in his jaws. The two of them looked at each other as the train pulled away.
The day had dragged. Sitting in meetings with his marketing colleagues, all Magnus could think about was the abandoned dog. He held himself entirely responsible for the events of the morning. No blame could be attached to Kinnear.
Did dogs possess homing instincts? Magnus didn’t think so. You never saw them cutting about town on their own. They always had someone with them. Had Kinnear been wearing a collar? He couldn’t recall seeing one.
The elderly gentleman would be distraught. A dog like that was irreplacable.
So what was Magnus going to do about it? When he arrived back at the station, assuming Kinnear wasn’t there, what ought to be done?
He would raise awareness of the situation and facilitate the dog’s recovery, without getting dragged into things further.
Speed was of the essence. There was probably a black market for dogs like Kinnear. He mustn’t fall into the wrong hands.
When the meeting finished, he got to work.
Magnus had fretted over whether or not to mention a reward. All things considered, he decided the old man would be happy to pay. And the cash might encourage some entrepreneurial sleuths. The kids from the duck pond, for instance.
Magnus printed off fifty copies and pocketed a roll of Sellotape.
On the train home, looking at the flyers stacked on his lap, Magnus wondered if he hadn’t made a serious error. He thought back to the elderly gentleman and the dog, playing catch in the park. ‘Kinnear! Kinnear!’ Was that really what the old man had been shouting? He had the uncomfortable feeling it might have been ‘C’mere!’
Because really, what sort of name for a dog was Kinnear? The more Magnus thought about it, the less appropriate it seemed.
He considered the flyer. The photo was of a different, albeit similar, dog; the name might be entirely wrong; the contact details were frustratingly vague. The only thing the appeal had going for it was the reward.
It was dark when the train pulled into the station. Magnus waited for the crowd to disperse. He looked up and down the platform. He crossed the bridge and walked along the platform he’d been on that morning. ‘Kinnear,’ he called softly. ‘C’mere.’ There was no sign of the dog.
Surreptitiously, he put flyers up on each platform, in the waiting room, and around the station entrance. He retraced his steps from the morning, sticking flyers on lamp posts along the High Street, then on the school railings, then on tree trunks in the park, then on the bandstand. Eventually, they were all gone.
Magnus looked over at Kinnear’s house. The lights were on downstairs. He walked over to the hedge and peered through. The elderly gentleman was sitting at the kitchen table, a mug by his side. That was all Magnus could see.
The thing to do, Magnus thought, as he shuffled uncomfortably by the hedge, would be to walk round to the front of the house, ring the doorbell, and make a clean breast of the situation.
Instead of which, he returned to his flat. He cooked some spaghetti, uncorked a bottle of wine and ate dinner on the sofa.
The following morning, and every morning afterwards, he took a longer route to the station, avoiding the park completely.