A couple of days later I’m back to see Jeremy for a follow-up appointment. There’s a van parked outside, sheets laid out on the paving slabs underneath the windows and around the front door, and two sun-burned guys in overalls sitting on the garden wall, smoking. The oldest one, Terry, has long grey hair tied back in a pony-tail and leathery brown skin; his assistant, Mick, is a younger version, looking more like a painting and decorating marine, with a shaved head and tattoos you can barely make out beyond the tan.
‘He’s upstairs,’ says Terry, licking along the edge of his roll-up, nodding instead of pointing. ‘Pauline’s nipped out to the shops.’
‘Mind as you go in,’ says Mick. ‘Don’t touch nothing.’
Inside, the door between the kitchen and the rest of the house is shut. As soon as I open it, a blurred white shape races out.
The dog has run straight out into the back garden. He stands out on the sunny decking and watches me to see what I’ll do next. When I take a step towards him, he takes a step back. I crouch down, hold my hand out, lower my head submissively and make kissy-kissy noises; when I look up again, he’s standing exactly as he was, his head crooked slightly on one side.
His ears prick up.
‘Come on, Brian! Let’s see who’s upstairs….’
He turns round and trots off into the garden.
The first thing I do is go outside again and speak to the painters.
‘Ah – don’t worry,’ says Terry. ‘He’s all right in the back garden. He can’t get out. It’s the front you’ve got to worry about.’
‘But we can’t shut the front door. It’s wet.’
‘Yeah – but – we can put this plastic table across the front…’
Mick produces a flattened white plastic garden table and props it up against the kitchen cabinets.
‘And I’ll secure it with these saucepans,’ says Terry. ‘How’s that?’
I go up to see Jeremy, leaving the connecting door open in the hope that Brian will follow.
Jeremy’s much the same as before. But despite his illness he’s warm and welcoming. When I tell him about Brian he bats the air.
‘Oh well,’ he says. ‘So long as the garden gate’s shut,’ he says. ‘It is shut, isn’t it?’
I go back down to check.
Brian is parading round the far side of the garden like he’s at a show.
I check the gate. It’s firmly closed.
I try a few more tricks to coax Brian over – ‘innocently walking away’ – ‘finding something interesting in the flower bed’ – ‘putting my hand in my pocket and saying what’s this?’ – but each attempt is treated with equal disdain. Seriously? Did you honestly think I’d be persuaded by such amateurish tricks? How little you know me.
I give up and go back inside.
Ten minutes later I’m halfway through the examination when I hear a cry from the kitchen.
‘Pauline!’ says Jeremy.
I tear off my stethoscope and hurry back down.
There are two shopping bags in the middle of the floor; the plastic table is angled away from the door, the saucepans are up on the counter, and on the freshly-painted wooden step, two neat paw prints.
Terry is rolling himself another fag.
‘It’s all gone tits up, mate’ he says. ‘I was round the side, Mick was in the van, and we didn’t see Pauline come back from the shops. ‘Course as soon as she moved the table Brian ran out. He’s high-tailed it down the road, Mick’s gone after him, and I think Pauline’s heading them off at the pass.’
‘Do you think I should have a drive round?’
‘Nah! They’ll be all right,’ he says. ‘Brian’s got previous. He always comes back.’
But then he spoils it by saying: ‘He’s a smart dog all right. I reckon he’s been planning this. I wouldn’t mind betting he’s got a system of tunnels, like in that film.’
He plants the fag in his mouth and wanders around the driveway shaking the legs of his overalls to illustrate how Brian got rid of the soil.
‘Yep. A very smart dog. Mind you,’ he says, taking the fag out again and picking a strand of tobacco from his bottom lip, ‘it wouldn’t be so bad if he had the road sense to match.’
I go back upstairs to tell Jeremy the bad news.
‘That dog’ll be the death of me,’ he says. ‘But don’t worry. I’m sure he’ll be fine.’
He doesn’t seem easy about it, though. And neither am I.
I finish the exam.
Just as I’m writing up the results, I hear a commotion down in the kitchen. Pauline’s back, with Brian on a lead, frowning and looking furious.
‘I’m so sorry,’ I tell her. ‘I didn’t think. As soon as I opened the door he was off.’
Brian looks up at me.
Snitch he says.