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Retrieval

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Peter was silent on the way back to the Folly, the kind of silent that a young man goes after he's seen more brutal and senseless death in one afternoon than most people see in their lifetimes. Nightingale had to admit he felt pretty rotten about it too. One did become somewhat inured, but only somewhat, and his inability to make it stop was difficult to endure. Four more victims of--of something, something unknown and magical that made the people of his city brutally kill each other on a pleasant Sunday afternoon in the West End.

When they arrived, Peter didn't go in to supper, instead walking head-down up to his own room. He didn't look back, and Nightingale made no effort to stop him. The boy was tough, he would survive this, but there was no need to push him into going through the motions tonight.

The dog scampered out from the kitchen, looked up after Peter and then turned to Nightingale and began to dance around his feet, whining.

"Off with you," Nightingale said distractedly. "Molly, the dog--"

Molly came after Toby, holding the lead. Toby bounded back to her, tail wagging so hard it looked like it might fall off. She looked up after Peter and gestured with the lead.

"Leave it," said Nightingale. "He needs a rest."

Molly looked dubiously at the dog.

"He needs walking, does he? All right. Give that to me."

She looked at Peter again.

"I'll walk the dog tonight," Nightingale repeated. "We'll eat after I get back. Thank you, Molly, that will be all."

She surrendered the lead with a very doubtful curtsey, and went back to the kitchens. Nightingale examined the dog lead. It was a modern retractable one in a hard plastic case with a handle, very practical. He stooped down and tried to clip the lead to the dog's collar. Toby yapped at him, jumped up and ran in circles around his legs. "Hold still, dog--sit, sit! Stay!"

Clearly nobody had trained the dog. On the fifth attempt, Nightingale got the lead connected to the collar, put on a scarf against the spring evening chill, and headed out into Russell Square, Toby trying his best to run circles around him.

"If you ever want me to do this again," Nightingale informed him as they whirled down the steps, "you're going to have to learn some manners." He shortened the lead so that the dog had to stay close to him. Toby whined, staring at the park. It was a pitiful sound. "Heel," Nightingale said, unmoved. Or at least, not visibly moved. After not laughing at some of the things Peter had done over the past months, it wasn't too difficult to keep a straight face with the dog.

Apparently convinced that he meant it, Toby trotted meekly at his side along the south and west sides of the square, stopping only to lift his leg against a parking meter and to sniff at a discarded plastic cup. "I quite agree, that doesn't belong there," Nightingale said, and picked it up between two fingers and deposited it in the next rubbish bin with a grimace.

They went past the parked coaches on the north side of the square and Toby began to pull towards the gate into the park. For such a small animal, he had impressive strength. "You're a very straightforward creature, aren't you?" Nightingale said. "And you know exactly what you want. Very well." He crossed the road, and went into the top entrance to the park.

With deep-ingrained police habit he surveyed the park: a few joggers, some busy commuters cutting across on their way home, a handful of tourists, a courting couple sitting on one of the benches, a father with two toddlers running around, and several other dogs with their owners. Some of the dogs were off the lead, and Toby looked at them hopefully.

"Oh no," Nightingale said. "You may clutter up the Folly and shed hairs everywhere, but if I let you off the lead I don't imagine I'll get you back, and Peter would not be happy." But he did let the lead extend to its full length, and Toby happily pulled away from him and went to sniff at everything he could find. Nightingale let the dog lead him around the park at random, watching his bouncy movements and wagging tail, and let his mind wander. It was a little easier to understand why Peter hadn't followed his advice and taken the animal straight to the Battersea Dog's Home.

Toby abruptly pulled towards the south side of the park and yapped. Nightingale looked up, and saw a figure hurrying towards them. It was Peter.

"I'm sorry--I saw you'd taken him out--oh good, you haven't let him off the leash. I was worried you might, and he doesn't always come back when you call him yet," Peter said breathlessly.

"I can see he's not trained yet," Nightingale said calmly. "We're getting on fine."

Peter bent down and scratched Toby's head, and Nightingale took the opportunity to study his apprentice. Peter still had that distressed stillness about him, but distance from the crimes and distraction were working their usual effect, with the added resilience of youth. Nightingale handed him the lead.

"By all means take the dog," he said. Peter nodded, and fumbled in his pocket for a tennis ball. Toby's tail began to wag so fast Nightingale was amazed it didn't propel him forwards.

He stood with Peter while the boy threw the ball, carefully not beyond the reach of the dog's lead, and Toby ran to fetch it. He wasn't very reliable about bringing it back again once he had it, and despite himself Nightingale found himself roped into the game, chivvying the dog back to Peter or collecting the ball himself. Ten minutes of this and he saw Peter smile.

"Molly's keeping supper for us," he said when Toby abandoned the ball and went to sniff at a miniature poodle being walked by an immaculately dressed young man. "Shall we?"

Peter glanced at him, and then back at the dog. "Okay," was all he said, but he was policeman enough to cast Nightingale a faintly suspicious look as they turned along the path towards the Folly. Pay attention, boy, Nightingale thought. This is how you handle these things. You carry on with your duties, and it gets better.

"Thanks for taking him out," Peter said as they went out of the park.

"I don't plan to make a habit of it," Nightingale replied repressively. Toby looked up at him then and gave a little whine. "Or not very often, at least," he found himself saying, then turned his frown on Peter when the boy grinned.

Perhaps there was something to be said for having a dog in the Folly after all.