Tense, the little girl stands in the aisle next to the driver, waiting for him to pull up. She has been getting off the school bus one stop earlier for the whole week already without the driver noticing, but today he eyes her suspiciously asks her where she thinks she is going. Nervously, she mumbles something about the new frozen yoghurt place. He frowns and was about to ask her to sit down when a bunch of kids rush forward and nearly knock the girl off her feet.
“What’s with the froyo , Trisha? Ben, her classmate yells, ” You’re blocking the way.”
A tall prefect -a year eleven- looks at her rather bossy , seeing the tremor in the girl’s worried eyes, he says to the driver, “It’s ok, Mike, she lives near me, in the middle between the two stops. I’ll walk with her.” And shovels her off the bus.
It’s only a short distance from the stop to the end of the street where the shop was. Tricia walks briskly and once she gets there she quickly kneels down in front of the shop window to search for the white fur ball among the nest of otherwise golden puppies. Her heart is pounding until she spots him, buried under two of his brothers or sisters who are snatching at each other’s long floppy ears. A big smile appears on her face as she knocks on the glass to draw their attention. She has been so worried somebody bought him already.
“Look he’s still here. There are only four left.” She says to the prefect, who has caught up with her.
“That’s not froyo.” The prefect kneels next to her.
“But they are cool, aren’t they?”
“They are not bad. ” He glances over at her, “Come.” She follows him into the small shop and again they kneel in front of the window area which has been screened off with plastic coated wiremesh.
“ I like the white one, doesn’t he look like a snow man, or a snowball ?“ Tricia extended her hand holding out an Oreo for the puppies to sniff. Her long braids dangle over the edge and the white puppy sits up, sniffs and nibbles at her hair.
”Isn’t he adorable?” She coos.
“You’re not supposed to feed them, Treasure.”
“It’s Tricia, dude.”
“That’s what I said, and I’m James, not dude. What’s wrong with his leg?”
“I don’t know. He’s kind of dragging it. Maybe he’s hurt.”
“No feeding, kids.” A tall lanky sales girl appears behind them, “Excuse me for a sec.”
They get up to step aside as the sales girl leans forward. Snowball was holding on to Tricia’s braid with his teeth and dangling in mid-air. The sales girl grabs him and handed it to a young couple standing behind them, “He’s teething. They are cocker spaniels and great with kids.”
“What’s wrong with his leg?” James asks.
“He’s born that way. Maybe there were too many in a batch. He’s the youngest in a nest of nine.” The sales girl says, “It’s sad, but it happens. You can have him for a discount though.”
“How much?” Tricia blurts out, before James can say anything.
“At ten thousand, they go like cupcakes. We’ve sold five already, you can have this one for three if you like.” The sales girl tells the couple, “I’ll show you a better one.”
Taken aback upon hearing the amount, the little girl looks at the puppy longingly.
“Wow, that’s a lot of money, Trash.”
She looks at him and says, “It’s Tricia.”
“Whatever. Come on, let’s get going.” James says and shovels her out of the shop.
“Our competitors are going in with the old protocol, with a few enhancements. I have some information here, but I can get hold o all the details tomorrow. Once they’ve launched their platform, we launch ours which will totally obliterate theirs. It will give us a mile long edge. We’ll have a slot of at least half a year to one year to sweep up their market share, and by the time they catch up and have launched their emulated version of ours, we’ll do it again.”
Tricia’s dad swivels around in his chair to see Tricia leaning against the door of his study. He raises his eyebrows, and lifts his chin waiting for her to say something, but before a single word comes out of her half open mouth, his attention is snapped up by the person on the other end of the line and he swivels away from Tricia to face the harbor view outside his ceiling to floor window.
“How can I be sure?…. Let’s just say I’ve been around for a while, I know people at the right places… Look, it’s corporate intelligence…. Totally ethical, why shouldn’t it be? … “ He swivels back to see Tricia standing in front of his desk and frowns, but continues his conversation, “Like countries need intelligence agencies, corporations need intelligence…Sure it’s legal, I’m just using the loophole here and there… Don’t worry. We’re just tad-poles, they would rather catch the big fish.. Alright man, take care. “
Tricia’s dad put his i-phone back in the dock and looks at Tricia, “What’s the matter, are you hungry? The fridge..”
“Yes dad, I know the fridge is packed with frozen dinners to last us until Christmas Eve.”
“What’s up then?”
“I was just wondering, if I can borrow some money?”
“How much and what for?”
Tricia hesitates for a second, then tells her dad about the dog.
“I don’t know Tricia, you know our situation, don’t you?”
“We’re not sure who you will live with, whether you will stay with me or go and live with your mum, “ Tricia’s dad is shaking his head, “Either case, this is going to add more trouble for all of us, you know.”
“I’ll take care of it, I swear.”
“And who takes care of you so that you can take care of it?” Her dad asks.
She feel tears welling up in her eyes, and quickly leaves the room.
The next day, around lunch time at school, James froze in the middle of his gait and looks at the things Tricia is laying out on the bench in furthest corner of the yard, “What’s with the stuff?”
“I’m holding a bench sale, you want a Kindle? Only 350 Hong Kong dollars.”
James picks up the kindle, takes off the pink leather cover and puts it back on the bench, “Why? Have you run up a debt or something?”
“No, it’s for a good cause. “ Tricia points at the A4 printed photo resting on the bench showing a nest of puppies fast asleep. A pink cloud highlights a white one, ”Operation Pebbles: Save Snowball.“ it says in large prints.
“How about an I-touch? Five hundred dollars with a ready-to-go collection of songs.” She says shyly, “Or a NDS for two hundred?”
“How many of these do you need to sell to make three thousand bucks?” James frowns.
“I still have a thousand bucks left from my Lai see money.” Tricia says.
“It’s just a puppy,“ James sighs.
“They are going to put it to sleep if no one wants him,” Tricia replies, “They sold all the other ones already. He’s the only one left.”
James looks around and hollers across the schoolyard to a bunch of kids, “Yo Rob, did you say you lost your touch and don’t want to tell your dad about it?”
“This is only 2800 dollars.” The sales girl says after stacking the coins on top of the bills,
“I know, but it’s only two hundred dollars,”
“I’m afraid my boss said, not less three thousand.”
“I can come in and work, clean the cages after school. “ Tricia pleaded, “I can walk the dogs, or anything you want.”
“I’ll make sure she keeps her promise.” James -who is standing behind her- says, “I’m good at that.”
The sales girl looks at the white puppy in Tricia’s hands and sighs. She picks up the phone and calls. After ten minutes of talking, she put it down.
“My boss says company policy is company policy. I told you.”
Tricia turns to James and yawps, “We have to save him, James, he’s the only one left!”
“We’ll have another bench sale tomorrow. I’ll sell my sister’s nook.”
“Tomorrow is too late.” Tricia held Snow Dog against her cheek. Seeing the tears drip from Tricia’s cheek on to the little puppy, who is yelping happily and seems oblivious to what is going on, the sales girl groans, bends down to retrieve something from beneath the counter, and takes two hundred dollars out her wallet, “This is a personal loan, alright?! And don’t tell my boss.”
“What the… ” Tricia’s dad slips on something gooey or chewy, his feet skids from underneath him and he lands on his back. Hearing him scream and shout her name, Tricia quickly hides Snow Ball in her wardrobe and brushes off the dog’s hair from her uniform.
“Sup, dad?” She tries to sound as normal as possible, which is very unlike her.
“What are these pieces of steak doing on the floor?” He yells while rubbing his back.
“Don’t pretend now, you don’t like steak, I can’t recall buying steak. How come there is steak on the floor?”
“James was here,” Tricia stammers, “He’s a prefect from my school. He loves steak.”
“Why was James, who loves steak, eating it from our floor?” Without waiting for her answer, her dad takes long strides and enters Tricia’s room. He looks around, then walks straight up to her wardrobe and opens it. It appears empty. Tricia’s dad turns around and asks, “Where have you hidden him?” He squints at Tricia who squints back when the doorbell rings.
“Ruf?” Snow Ball barks and stumbles out from underneath the bottom shelf and scurries past the two of them out of the room. They hurry after him.
“Come on in, Allen. Tricia’s dad let in the suited man, who was holding a briefcase tightly clutched against his chest, “Sit down and make yourself comfortable. “
“Your room, Tricia. You’re grounded.” He mumbles softly, before turning to Allen asking, “A glass of wine before we talk shop?”
Two days later.
“Don’t worry, I have all it all right here… “ Tricia’s dad is lounging on sofa, with his feet up and a beer in the other hand.
“They are in for the biggest surprise, trust me…. They wouldn’t know what hit them, haha…. No qualms, my dear man, this is ‘the way’… The only guaranteed way to win… Yeah, hang on… “ He put the beer down and walks to his desk. After a few minute of searching which gets more frantic as time goes, his hand touches something slimmy.
“Damned,” He cursed loudly, “That bloody dog, I’ll kill it.” He strides towards Tricia’s room, and throws the door open, “Where is that bloody animal?”
“Why?” Tricia stammers.
He rushes towards the wardrobe which is half open, and lunges towards the lowest shelf. Sticking his hand into the dark space, he feels a wet tongue licking his fingers. He tries to sweep the puppy aside, but it keeps licking as if his fingers were honey-coated ribs.
He pulls the puppy out and held it against his chest as he sticks his other hand back in the dark space. “Gotcha.” He opens his clutched hand to see what has remained of his document. It was chewed through and through and totally illegible. Holding the dog close to his face, he shouts, “Bloody dog.” Undeterred, Snowball licks dad’s nose.
With the puppy still in one hand, Dad picks up the phone and hears a busy tone… He presses redial and waits for the person to pick up, “Listen, something happened.” He cuts to the chase, “It’s not going to happen.. No.. Something happened alright?… Something I didn’t see coming.. No, it’s not that… Nobody is onto anybody… Well, if you have to know, the dog has eaten it.. No, it’s not that.. I mean literally: a real dog has eaten it.”