This is for TAE who dearly misses Alfred and for Jimminey, one of the sweetest cats I've ever had who was fearless until he got himself stuck somewhere he couldn't get out of and then was the biggest wimp and wouldn't even come crawling out of the storm drain for tuna. I had to sit in that darn drain until he figured out that I had food and was going to rescue him. I really miss that doofus.

I don't own Joel Taggart or Steven Ellison. Mable Taggart is the brainchild of TAE and the sweatshirt is mine. I make no money from this, just the warm fuzzies from my friends and licks from cute puppies.

Chapter 18: Puppy Love

Steven stepped out of his car and stretched. This was his favorite time to come to the track. It was early enough to beat the visitors, but late enough for some of the dampness and chill from the previous evening's rain storm to have vanished.

Locking up his car, he headed towards the owner's and employee entrance. As he approached the entrance, he saw something else to put a smile on his face.

"Joel! Mable!" Steven called out as he rushed up to join two of his favorite horse owners.

Joel and Mable Taggart were partial owners of Little Stooge, one of the horses that often ran at the track. It wasn't uncommon to find them spending quiet weekend mornings watching the trainers exercise their pupils.

Joel shook Steven's hand as Mable rolled onto the van's lift and started for the ground. "Hi, Steven. Slumming today?"

"Huh?" the track manager replied in confusion. Then understanding dawned. "Oh the jeans and sweatshirt. It's too early for a suit. I've got a change of clothes in the office for later."

"Good, I was beginning to think Jim was rubbing off on you too much," Mable joked as Joel locked up the van, then the trio headed for the entrance.

Just outside the gate, Steven Ellison stopped and assumed a stance that was all too familiar to Joel.

"What's wrong, Steven?"

The younger Ellison took a step away from the entrance, "I thought I heard something." He kept listening as he began to run along the curb, which still had a stream of water draining from the recent rain. He stopped at the storm drain and bent to look down into the cavity beyond. "Joel, it's a puppy!" he shouted once he identified the source of the sound.

The Taggarts quickly joined their young friend. "He must have gotten caught in the storm and washed down the drain," Mable theorized.

In silent agreement, Joel rushed back to the van and returned with the jack handle to use as a pry bar on the nearby manhole cover. The two men pried up the cover and Steven quickly climbed down.

With the flashlight, also retrieved from the van, Steven was able to easily see the puppy. It was a sorry sight. Despite the mud, Steven saw lots of fur and feet. There was a bluish marbling, forming a saddle on the little dog's back and one eye was half-blue. He stood on an island of debris and wasn't sure if this new person was friend or foe.

Steven removed his sweatshirt and slowly approached the puppy so as not to frighten it further. "Easy there, little guy. Nobody's going to hurt you." He kept talking softly to the puppy as he crept closer. "That's it. I'm going to get you out of here and someplace much warmer."

Once he was close enough, he used the sweatshirt to pick up the puppy and wrap it up all at the same time. He handed the slightly squirming bundle to Joel, who immediately passed it to Mable.

"Here Steven, take my hand," Joel said, holding his hand out to help Steven out of the storm drain. He could hear Mable comforting the little dog.

"Oh, you poor thing. How ever did you get stuck down in that awful place? You must be freezing and starving."

With Steven out of the drain, he and Joel replaced the manhole cover and turned to Mable and the puppy. She wasn't paying any attention to her husband and friend and kept cooing at the dog, which was now licking her finger.

"You're just so adorable."

The two men looked at each other knowingly. "How much do you think it would take to get Mable to give up that puppy?" Steven asked.

"I have no idea, and I'm not about to find out," Joel replied.

Joel began to push Mable's wheelchair towards the track gate and Steven followed along side.

Once inside the track, they sought out the track vet. Doc Brown was more than happy to take a look at the puppy. "You found him in the storm drain?" he asked.

All three rescuers nodded affirmatively.

"Well that explains the cold and mud," the doctor started to explain as he cleaned off what he could to facilitate his examination. "He's a bit undernourished, but not dangerously so."

Joel had to help hold the squirming little dog as the doctor tried to get a look at its teeth.

Finally getting a decent look, the doc continued his prognosis, "He's still got some feistiness in him, that's for sure. I'm not an expert in canine health, but he seems pretty healthy."

There was a collective sigh from the crowd that had gathered upon noticing the unusual activity. Mable's smile grew even wider.

Doc Brown wrapped the puppy back up in the Army sweatshirt and handed him back into Mable's eagerly waiting arms. Then looking up at Joel, he asked, "Are you planning on keeping him?"

The detective looked down at his wife, who was scratching the still damp dog behind the ears. She was holding him in such a way that others could pet him, but obviously wasn't going to let anyone else hold him. He could easily tell that she had quickly fallen in love with the little puppy and it would take a lot of convincing to get her to give him up.

"I want to keep him, Joel," Mable said, as if reading her husband's mind.

As Joel continued his contemplation, the doctor added, "I'd guess his age to be about ten to twelve weeks and judging by the size of his paws, I'd say he's going to be huge."

For a brief moment Joel had images if his wife and her wheelchair being knocked over by a behemoth of a dog or dragged down the street while trying to walk him. Then looking at how the little dog was already standing in her lap and licking her face affectionately, those images quickly changed to the large dog knocking over intruders and retrieving items for his 'mommy'.

Joel leaned down and kissed Mable on the check. "Hey, Sweetie, how about we name him Army? He is wrapped in an Army sweatshirt, after all?" he asked.

"Joel Taggart, I will not name my dog after a sweatshirt," she stated. She gave her new baby another look and declared, "Alfred. I like the name Alfred."

Chapter 17

Chapter 19


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