THE moment Cory let Rufus off the lead she knew it was a big mistake. The powerful Labrador cross golden retriever shot across Hyde Park like a bat out of hell, mothers whisking toddlers up into their arms at his approach and elderly couples leaping out of his way with a nimbleness they probably thought had been lost to them years before. Even the group of young people who had been ambling towards them clad in strategically slashed jeans and with piercings in seemingly every nook and cranny lost their cool aplomb, scattering with shrieks and cries which—on the whole, Cory was thankful to note—were good-humoured.
For the first minute or so of following in the dog’s wake Cory shouted apologies to all and sundry, then, when Rufus showed no signs of slowing down, she kept her breath for running.
Why hadn’t she listened to her aunt? Cory silently berated herself as she panted after the dog, wasting valuable breath every twenty yards or so by screeching his name. But Rufus had been so docile and obliging on the walk down Bayswater Road from her aunt’s house, sitting at all the right times without being told and keeping to heel like an old pro. And the deep brown eyes had been so imploring once they’d entered the park, the doggy expression of longing as he’d watched other canines chasing balls and playing making her feel like the wicked witch of the west.
‘Keep him on the lead, Cory,’ Aunt Joan had warned as she’d seen them off at the door, her left leg encased in plaster due to a nasty fall a couple of weeks before. ‘I can just about trust him to come back now but I don’t know how he would react with someone else. He’s perfectly friendly, of course, and just adores children and other dogs, but the original owners kept him confined all the time as well as neglecting him in other ways, as you know. The poor darling.’
‘The poor darling’ was not the phrase she’d choose to describe the dog right at this moment, Cory thought grimly. Her lungs felt as though they were going to burst and her throat and chest were on fire. There were various choice names which sprang to mind but poor and darling didn’t feature in any of them.
Rufus having made a couple of lightning stops to sniff the certain part of other canines’ anatomies which dogs found so interesting, Cory now found herself closer to him than at any time since the undignified chase had begun. Summoning all her strength, she bellowed, ‘Rufus! Stay!’ just as the animal prepared to take off from socialising with a French poodle. The golden head turned, brown eyes considering her with a faintly amazed expression as though he couldn’t understand why she wasn’t entering wholeheartedly into this wonderful game he’d organised. Seizing the opportunity, Cory growled, ‘Come here. Heel, Rufus.’
There was still a good fifty yards between them but she couldn’t run any more, the stitch in her side excruciating. Whether it was her ferocious voice or the fact that she had slowed down to a walk, Cory didn’t know, but the big dog suddenly seemed to realise all was not well. After one more moment of hesitation he took off again, but this time headed straight for her, determined to impress her by the speed with which he obeyed. It was doubtful he even noticed the tall, well-dressed figure about to cross his path. There was one endless moment when man and dog met and then five or six stone of sheer canine muscle sent