"When you said I should start taking more cases, I didn't think you had this kind of thing in mind." Jessica lowered herself into a squat, hands on her knees, and tilted her head to get a better look through the grate. "What's next, rescuing kittens from trees?"
She didn't have to turn around; she could all but hear Trish rolling her eyes. "I know you think this is beneath you, but it's not like you're too busy. And you'd really be helping me out."
"Yeah, yeah." Jessica leaned a little closer in and squinted into the darkness. After a few seconds, her eyes adjusted, and she finally got a glimpse of her client: a small pug puppy, black eyes shining in a white face, on either side of a little black nose. "Hey, little guy. How'd you even get down there?" The grate was solid, with tiny slits between the bars -- a rat wouldn't even fit between them, much less a dog.
"He slipped his leash and ran down a half-open manhole," Trish said. "Before I could grab him, he was gone, halfway down the block through the sewer."
Jessica turned half around, craning her neck sideways to look at Trish. The midafternoon sun was behind her, and Jessica had to shade her eyes. "Why were you walking a dog? You don't even like dogs."
"I was doing a favor for a friend." Trish crossed her arms. "Not that it's any of your business."
"I'm doing a favor for you," Jessica pointed out. "That kinda makes it my business."
Trish scowled. "Can you get Mr. Muffins out or not?"
Jessica raised an eyebrow. "Mr. Muffins? Okay, now I know he's not secretly your dog." She glanced at the grate, then back to Trish. "I mean, sure. If you don't mind me doing significant damage to government property."
Trish looked quickly in both directions before nodding at Jessica. "If that's what it takes."
"Okay," Jessica said. "Just remember, if the cops come along, you're paying the citation, or whatever. No way am I bringing Howarth or Nelson in on this one."
"Fine." Trish took another nervous look around, then let out a heavy sigh. "Just-- do it, okay?"
Jessica shrugged. "Whatever you say." She returned her attention to the grate, and Mr. Muffins, who fortunately hadn't moved. "All right, uh, Mr. Muffins." She grimaced; even thinking the ridiculous name made her brain hurt. "Hold on a second. This is gonna get a little loud, so you might want to step back. Sorry. Not like you understand anything I'm saying to you, because you're a dog."
Mr. Muffins let out a little yap, and then took a step backwards.
Jessica stared at him hard, then shook her head. "Dumb coincidences," she muttered under her breath. "All right, here we go." She grabbed the grate with both hands, rebalanced herself on her toes, and pulled.
It took a solid minute of tugging before she felt the thing even budge. For just a second, Jessica doubted, and then the metal groaned and came free all at once, so quickly that she lost her balance and rolled over onto her back. "Ooof!" Before she could get up, the puppy had bounded out of the newly-created hole in the curb to leap on her chest, then started licking her face.
Behind her, Jessica could hear Trish's unsuccessful attempt to stifle a giggle; Jessica wanted to yell at her, but she was too busy trying to get a good grip on the dog, who was wriggling around in glee. "All right, all right," she grumbled, "hold still." She wrapped her hands around the puppy -- carefully -- and then sat up, holding Mr. Muffins a few inches out from her face. She caught a whiff of his previous surroundings, and looked away, wrinkling her nose. "Phew! And haven't you had an exciting and smelly afternoon?" Getting to her feet, she turned around and held the dog out to Trish. "So, you lost something."
Trish took Mr. Muffins and glared down at him. "Now you, you bad boy, are getting a bath." Mr. Muffins only opened his mouth into a doggy grin, panting harder; Trish sighed and clicked the leash onto his collar, tugging it twice to check the connection before setting him back on the ground. Then she looked back at Jessica with a small smile. "Thanks, really. You saved me a whole lot of uncomfortable conversations."
Jessica waved her off and set the grate back into place, fitting it awkwardly into the hole she'd torn into the concrete. "So you owe me. And seriously." She stood up and brushed the dust off her hands onto her jeans. "The next time you run a kitten up a tree, don't call me. That's more Luke's style anyway."
Trish's smile broadened. "Sure, Jess, whatever you say. Okay, Mr. Muffins, let's go." She caught Jessica's eye. "You sure you won't join us? I know a pet groomer with a cafe next door, and they make excellent coffee."
Jessica shrugged. "Buy me enough for the rest of the day, maybe I'm in."
"This way." And they walked off together, leaving the scene of the crime -- and the rescue -- behind, Mr. Muffins trotting happily beside them.