"Look, it's your favourite- cheese fondue !"
Marie placed the bowl besides Raphael's bed like a maiden’s offering to a shrine. A sniffling nose poked out from beneath the bed, followed by a white snout and a pair of beady black eyes. Greedy though the eyes were, they were also filled with suspicion.
"Doesn't that smell good ?" Marie crooned, waving the cheesy delight around. Ears twitching, the beast tentatively emerged to dip his tongue in the dish. Not bad...
Fondue yelped as human arms caught him, lifting him up. His master had been lying in wait for him above the bed. Fondue shot Marie a betrayed look.
"Sorry, Fondue," the temptress said.
"Had to be done.”
Raphael carried his squirming dog to the bathroom. Fondue howled. (No, anything but THAT!)
“Quit it, Fondue. You need to look your best if you're gonna stand a chance in that show. We could win prizes! "
He dumped Fondue in the tub. Fondue leapt out, making one last-ditch break for freedom, but Marie shut the door behind them.
Fondue glanced from her to Raphael, who was wielding the dreaded shower-head and shampoo.
Raphael warned, "We can do this the easy way or the hard way."
One hour later, Fondue burst out of the bathroom, shaking his sopping-yet-spotless white coat all over the place. Two tired and thoroughly drenched teenagers followed.
Sighing, Raphael fetched some towels; one which he wrapped around Marie and another for himself. The last towel he used to dry Fondue as he finished his bowl of fondue.
"After all that, I hope the judges think he looks good," Raphael huffed.
Marie squeezed water out of her hair. "Of course they will! Who could resist a face like that ?"
Fondue stared at her with cheese dribbling down his mouth, which Raphael wiped away.
Marie chuckled. "Besides, it isn't all about presentation."
"You're right. Come on, boy. Show Marie some of your tricks we've been practicing... Sit!" Fondue planted his butt on the floor. Raphael rewarded him with a cheesy treat.
“Great! Now, speak."
" Lie down... Roll over... Stand up. .. and dance!"
Perched on his hind legs, paws in air, Fondue hopped around the room. Marie clapped.
Raphael patted Fondue on the head. "Atta-boy! You're all set!"
Canines of all breeds, colours and sizes paraded into the large white pavilion below the Eiffel Tower. Regional representatives had gathered to decide who would lead France in the world dog show taking place in Paris later that year.
"There are so many people here," Marie whispered as she, Raphael and Fondue waited in the queue. "Aren't you worried someone will recognise you- that being Phantom R, or Fondue?"
"Chill, Fondue looks like a completely different dog since we cleaned him up.”
Raphael lifted the plastic bag he had brought. "And no one will recognise me with this-"
"Huh? Raphael? I didn't expect to see you here."
Raphael turned (missing Marie's face-palm) to see his old friend/enemy. "Michel!"
The dark-haired boy raised an eyebrow at Fondue, who was currently licking his... underside. Michel drawled, “Since when do you guys attend posh dog shows?"
"Since when do cats attend dog shows?" Raphael countered, pointing at the brown cat-carrier Michel was holding. There was a hiss from within. Fondue winced.
Michel stuck his nose in the air. "Bartholomew is a special guest. He won last year's cat contest- hey! Don’t you walk away from me, Raphael!"
Raphael shuffled through the line, pulling Marie and Fondue with him. Unfortunately, Michel wasn't his only rival present...
"Watch where you are going!"
What in the name of Napoleon was Charlie Vergier doing here? As far as Raphael knew, she hated dogs, especially since Fondue had bitten her.
Fondue growled at her now. It became a whimper when a brawny black canine snarled back at him.
" S'assis , Armand," Charlie ordered. Armand sat to attention like her personal bodyguard.
“That's an... interesting dog you have there," Charlie commented as Fondue darted behind Raphael's legs.
Raphael hummed. “So's yours—"
Marie intervened, "I didn't know you had a dog, Charlie."
"Oh, Marie. Um, that's right. My dog... Well, we should go inside. Viens, Armand." Armand barred his teeth at Fondue, but faithfully marched after Charlie.
"Trust Charlie to have a dog that looks like it crawled out of the catacombs," Raphael whistled, putting a hand on Fondue's head. "But we're not scared of them. Right, partner...?"
He had to lug his chicken-of-a-partner inside the pavilion.
Once Fondue was signed up, Marie had to head to the spectators' stands. She gave Raphael a good-luck kiss and made a fuss of Fondue. "I know you'll succeed, together."
Fondue barked at his blushing master. Raphael nodded. "L-let's go."
First things first, they needed to dress up for the show. Fondue already had his red bandanna, but Raphael donned the 'disguise' he had brought: A red eye mask, a dark blue cape and a top hat to match. They were all ready for the opening round.
Raphael and Fondue joined the other competitors in the pavilion's centre as they were scored on their general appearance. Though Charlie and Armand refused to put on fancy dress, they received an ( Unbelievable! ) nine out of ten for 'perfect posture and poise'.
The judges deemed Fondue 'plain-looking', despite his bandanna being a cute touch. He was scored a criminally underrated five out of ten.
“You've gotta be kidding me," Raphael complained, gesturing to Fondue with a swish of his cape. "We deserve a seven at least!"
A female judge with bouffant hair frowned at him. “We are here to evaluate the condition of the animals, young man. Not their owners.”
Armand and Charlie swaggered past with a blue ribbon.
Charlie smirked. “Better luck next time, mate."
"Shame there isn’t a contest for biting constables' butts," Raphael muttered. "Don't worry, Fondue. We'll beat 'em in the Obedience Round."
This round required participants to enter the ring individually and perform tricks. A presenter introduced the first pair:
"...Charlie and her four-year-old female Beauceron, Armand. The Beauceron is known for its courage, intelligence and obedience. The breed is often used in protecting sheep and police work."
As Armand obeyed Charlie's rapid fire commands ( "S'assis! Reste! Viens! Rapporte! Au pied!") Raphael hummed. "Police work, huh? Bet she 'borrowed' that dog from the Constabulary. If she's cheating, what's to stop us from doing the same?"
Fondue whined, "Hrrrrn..."
"You're right. We can't let Marie down like that. Plus, we could get disqualified. We'll just have to make a bigger splash than Charlie."
Raphael searched for Marie's face in the stands when it was their turn.
"Next up... Representing the Notre Dame area, we have Raphael and Fondue, the three year old male... er, Alsatian Cheesehund . Yes, it's a real crossbreed, folks!"
There were titters from the audience, followed by squeals of "Awwww!" at the sight of Fondue. All the attention made Fondue freeze on the spot. He didn't notice Raphael telling him to sit , even when he was offered a treat.
"Come on, buddy, do something..." Raphael begged.
One of the judges glanced at his watch. "Your time is nearly up."
What could they do? Raphael tapped his foot. But not in impatience— someone was playing a catchy tune. Violin music echoed through the pavilion. Raphael grinned. ( Thank you, Marie. )
If there was one thing Fondue loved apart from food, it was music . Sure enough, Fondue's tail was waving like a metronome.
" Dance, Fondue!"
Just as they had practiced, Fondue started leaping all over the place. Raphael accompanied him, calling for him to roll, spin and flip.
While their routine wasn't as long as it could have been, it still gained a roar of applause from the crowd. Even the judges were pleased, granting them seven points. Charlie scowled as the duo strutted off to meet Marie on the sidelines.
Marie almost dropped her violin as Fondue jumped into her arms. "Well done!" she cheered.
Raphael grinned. “We couldn't have done it without our lovely musician—"
"I haven't seen moves like that since the Paris Opéra," Charlie remarked as she approached them, Armand in tow. This time, Fondue puffed out his chest, holding his head high.
"Thanks," Raphael returned. He clicked his tongue at Armand. "I've only seen dogs like that at the Paris Constabulary."
Marie put herself between the squabbling pair. "We should probably prepare for the next competition."
"The Agility Course," Charlie cut in. "Armand was made for trials like this."
"Armand'll eat Fondue's dust!" Raphael boasted.
"We will see about that," Charlie said darkly. Raphael really shouldn't have ticked her off.
Before Fondue's go at the Agility Course, a fat grey cat prowled onto the scene. Raphael groaned. Of all the times for Barthmeowl to escape from his carrier...
The presenter was confused. "Ah... It seems a cat has wandered into our midst. Please keep your animals under control, everyone..."
Raphael's father would come home before that happened. The dogs barked at the appearance of their whiskered foe, except for Fondue, who withered.
Barthmeowl pinned him with a glare. "Mrooww..."
Raphael started, "Don't-"
"WOEURF!" Fondue bolted.
Bartholomew chased him all over the course: through some cones, under hurdles, over a see-saw...
Raphael could barely keep up with them. He had never seen Fondue run so fast. The judges had never seen another living creature run so fast.
"Barthomeowl, stop this at once!"
"About time," Raphael huffed as Michel rushed out of the stands. "Help me catch them before Fondue's face gets clawed off."
"Barthomeowl wouldn't dare-"
"Just catch them!"
By this point, Barthmeowl had trapped poor Fondue inside a tunnel. Panting, Fondue crawled to the other end of the tunnel to find Armand waiting for him. The Beauceron gnashed her teeth and growled. Not at Fondue— at his pursuer, as if to say, “That Cheesehund is MY chew toy and mine alone!”
Barthmeowl hissed, but backed out of the tunnel. Michel caught him as he emerged and locked him in his carrier.
With the cat back in the bag, Raphael scooped up Fondue. "You okay? I can't believe Armand was there to bail you out—"
"She what?" Charlie demanded, arriving with Marie and the panel of judges. Charlie glared at Armand. "You are not supposed to help them! They are the enemy. They cannot win!"
"Actually, Fondue completed the course in the fastest time," a judge pointed out. "Despite disarranging most of the obstacles..."
"How about you keep the prize and we call it even?" Raphael offered.
After a few minutes of debate, the panel agreed. "Very well, in this case the first runner-up will win by default."
Charlie smirked... until the prize was awarded to a Belgian boy and his snowy white terrier.
She protested, "B-but they are not even French—!"
Charlie gulped as Inspector Vergier stormed into the pavilion. "Father, what are you doing here?"
"You know full well what I am doing here! How dare you take a police dog without my permission!"
"N-no, you don't understand! Um... Phantom R is in the vicinity, so I was using this dog to sniff him out—"
"STILL WITHOUT MY PERMISSION !"
Vergier dragged her out by the ear. Armand trotted after them.
Michel quipped, "This is why I don't see you outside of school, Raphael. You always get into the weirdest situations."
"So... What now?" Marie wondered. “Fondue tried his best, but that's it for the competitions."
“Au contraire...” Raphael smiled. "There happens to be a little competition going on outside— 'The Big Meat Catch!' Basically, the dogs have to catch all the meat their masters throw at them...Think you can handle it, Fondue?"