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Can't Jump The Same Train Twice

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It was stupid, after all he'd been through, to be afraid of a door.

"He'll recognise me," whispered Bryce, knowing that he was being daft. But Bull didn't seem to mind.

"I can't go in," said the old man, "they won't want Bessie in there."

While she was currently quiescent at the end of her length of twine, Bryce knew that the new member of their family had taken a disliking to him. If he tried to stay out here with Bessie, she would bark and bark, and maybe even as much as run off, or even worse, run into the shop after her real master.

He'd much preferred Lucy, but dog years were what they were, and the road had taken her.

"He hasn't seen you since you were a snot-nosed lad," Bull encouraged him. "Just head in like you own the place, plunk down the cash, and ask for the rabbit."

"Some of the notes are kind of grubby," Bryce protested, half-heartedly. "And don't most people pay for this kind of thing with plastic now, anyway?"

"Look," said Bull, leaning heavily on his stout, gnarled oaken stick. "Are you gonna get in there and get us back Jangles Malone, world's best singing and dancing rabbit, or are you gonna leave him all on his lonesome forever while we eat out every night this year on his ransom?"

Bryce's face fell. He suddenly felt kind of selfish, planning to buy back the rabbit with their carefully scraped-together savings when there were all kinds of practical things they could do with them.

"If you don't really want to…" he offered.

"I could say the same to you, boy," replied Bull, and the gentle reprimand in his voice convinced Bryce that they were both of the same heart.

Taking a deep, steadying breath, Bryce pulled himself up to his full height and strode through the door like a man - managing even to avoid flinching at the jingling bell which announced his presence to the empty counter.

Leaning against the counter to stop himself from trembling, he tapped his foot impatiently, right into the role of the businessman who had things to do and places to be.

He couldn't help but scan the shelves anxiously, though. And he couldn't see the rabbit anywhere.

"Can I help you?" asked Lucius, with an obsequious note which suggested that the disguise was working. Bryce hoped that he'd managed to suppress the flare of recognition and panic from his eyes.

"I heard you had a rare and special doll back here," said Bryce, trying to sound laid back, but the words tripping over each other slightly in their hurry to get out without stuttering. "Not so much a doll, in fact - but a rabbit?"

"Ah," said Lucius, and for a moment Bryce panicked that the awkwardness was the beginnings of recognition, but he seemed to be doing okay so far. "I'm afraid you are a little late. Why, just a couple of days ago, a young girl came past and you couldn't detach her from that rabbit."

"Oh," said Bryce, and he couldn't contain the disappointment that the businessman he was pretending to be should not have felt so deeply. "Can you… can you describe her?"

At this change of demeanor, Lucius did look suspicious, although it was clear he could not quite put his finger on what was familiar about the young man yet.

"I am not usually in the habit of describing my customers," Lucius admonished him.

"I suppose I shall take my money and go elsewhere, then," replied Bryce, pulling together some courage to emulate the offended businessman he ought to be.

"And why would you do otherwise, if I gave you cause to believe you would be tattled on to any other customer that came past? I am no gossip, sir," Lucius asserted.

"And I will be sure to inform my associates of the unacceptable rudeness of this shop's proprietor when asked a simple question," Bryce bluffed desperately. To underscore his point, he turned on his heel and began to head - more slowly than a truly offended gentleman might - towards the exit.

"Now, now," Lucius called after him, "I'm sure that won't be necessary. I must warn you that it is likely to be a most fruitless endeavour to chase down and unnecessarily harass the young girl and her mother, however."

"Oh?" asked Bryce with feigned nonchalance, turning slightly.

"Yes," replied Lucius. "Not only was the young child most attached to the creature, it appeared there was some history between it and the mother. As soon as she inspected the doll, she called it 'Edward' repeatedly, and seemed quite moved by the experience. I doubt you will be able to retrieve it, or would do any good if you did."

Bryce looked up at Lucius, the mask dropping as he searched the proprietor's face for any sign of falsehood; but in fact the shopkeeper looked more genuine and open than he had been at any time during their acquaintance, even if preservation of his own reputation was still foremost in his mind.

"I don't suppose you would be interested in any other doll?" Lucius asked, hopefully. "There are some quite rare and precious pieces here - no other animals, I'm afraid, but many genuine antiques and curiosities of similar manufacture to…"

"No, I'm afraid not," replied Bryce, firmly. "But… thank you."

Bull looked sceptical as Bryce emerged from the shop with no sign of Jangles Malone.

"I guess we're dining out," said Bryce.

"What happened?" asked Bull. "Got cold feet? How is he?"

"He's not here," replied Bryce. "But he's in good hands. Shopkeep said the kid's mom called him Edward."

Bull nods slowly. "I guess we need a new schtick, then."

"The cash'll give us plenty of time to think about it," Bryce reassured him.

Pulling himself up off the stoop, Bull looked up and down the street. "Guess we'd better start finding a place that likes dogs we can have a good snack, then," he said. "One last meal in the memory of the best singing and dancing rabbit there ever was."

"You make it sound like he's dead!" Bryce protested. "He's out there, somewhere."

"Yeah, kid," replied Bull, and then he had to take a moment to cough. "At this rate, he'll outlive us, I reckon."

"You at least, old man," Bryce joked.

"Yeah," Bull was suddenly serious. "You'll look after Bessie when I'm gone?"

"If she'll let me."

"She's a good girl, really," Bull insisted. "Right. Anyway. Less maundering; more eating."

And so they headed off down the street in search of a hot meal and a place to rest their tired bones.