Ben stalked along the tow path, following the canal. It had been three weeks, since she went missing. Three weeks of searching. Three weeks of hoping. Three weeks of being told to give up, to move on. Maybe it was hopeless, but Ben didn’t care. Ben never gave up. That was what made Ben, Ben.

“Come on, Ben,” said Gary. Gary was Ben’s partner, not that they saw eye to eye these days. Gary had been the first to say it was pointless looking, the first to say that she was gone. Ben wasn’t sure if he would ever forgive him for that. Gary was just being practical, Ben knew that deep down, but practicality didn’t come into it, not for Ben.

After all, she was his ball.

Humans didn’t get it, what it meant for a dog to lose their ball. They didn’t know what it felt like, to know your ball was out there, knowing you couldn’t find them. Wondering, endlessly, what might have happened.

Was she someone else’s ball now? Did someone else have their teeth in her, covering her in their filthy scent? Or maybe she was just lying in a gutter somewhere, lost and afraid.

Ben wasn’t sure which was worse. That was why he had to keep looking.

“Pepperami?” asked Gary.

Ben sniffed. Trying to bribe him with his favourite treat? Something stank about that. He didn’t want to think that Gary might be in on it, but he seemed awfully keen to get Ben off this case. It was just paranoia, he told himself. It had to be. Yeah… just paranoia.

“Come on, mate,” said Gary. “Let’s head home.”

Ben dug his feet into the soft loam at the side of the path. If only Gary would let him off the leash.

“Alright,” said Gary, seeming to sense Ben’s mood. “Just a little further.”

Ben didn’t need to be asked twice. He’d had a sniff of a rumour about a canal-boat, just a few minutes further down the trail from here. A canal-boat with kids on it. The kind of kids who find a ball when they were playing. The kind of kids, maybe, would might keep a ball.

Ben pulled Gary down the path. It wasn’t much of a lead, but it was all he had.