Sunday, May 29, 2016

The Inevitable Meeting

     We had gotten a few feet away from the outbuilding when Schnapps spotted Baylor coming toward us.
     "Oh no," Schnapps sighed. “Vat does he vant, now?"
     "Hey, Hey. Wait up," he called out. We stopped but Schnapps shifted her weight. The cold and the excitement of the already busy morning were taking their toll on her old injury. The house where Baylor had come from had a small fenced-in yard. Within the chain-linked fence, a small white dog paced and barked. 
     "Baylor, come back. Baylor, it's not safe out there. Baylor, are you listening to me? Whoa! Was that a hawk? Hawk, Hawk!"
     "What's wrong with that dog," I asked Schnapps.
     “Dat is Gaby, she gets nervous in open spaces," she said, shaking her head. "She got rolled by a hawk once, a scary experience for any small dog, but she never got over it. And now she's scared of any shadow dat crosses her path, even her own." 
     "The poor thing," I said.
     “Ve all haf our own fears,” Schnapps said. I couldn't imagine what Schnapps would be afraid of, she was the bravest dog I've ever met.
     "Hey, Schnapps. Hey, Fritter. Thanks for waiting," Baylor said when he reached us.
     "Hi, Baylor. How are you today," I asked. He looked at me with watery eyes.
     "Nobody has ever asked me that before," he said, his voice cracked with emotion. "It's always, 'Baylor do this. Baylor do that. Baylor, you're so dumb. Baylor, can't you do anything right.'" He hung his head and sniffed.
     I approached him and met his lowered gaze. ”Are you okay?"
     "Yeah, I'm great," He said, bouncing back from his blue mood. "Thanks for asking. How are you?"
     "I am well. Thank you." We both wagged our tails in agreement. 
     "So, now dat ve have shared our feelings," Schnapps butted in. “Vat did you want from us? Ve are very busy dogs." I knew Schnapps really wanted to get back inside and on the couch.
     "Oh, yeah. Cubby said that you should bring the kid here to see The Sweater."
     "And I've sent word to him dat she's not ready," Schnapps said impatiently.
     "Cubby said that if you didn't bring her down to meet The Sweater, then I was supposed to bust your master's kneecaps." Baylor winced when repeating his orders.
     "I take it you don't like busting kneecaps," I asked.
     "Oh, no. I like your human. She's really nice to me. When she's not mad at me, that is. She gives me treats, and belly rubs. Even when I try to bust her kneecaps, she always stops me and tosses my stick away. And when I bring it back, she throws it again, and again. It's really fun." 
     "So why do you work for those dogs? You just don't seem like the criminal type," I said.
Baylor looked from side to side to make sure no one was listening. 
     "The Sweater is really scary," he said in a whisper. "But he throws me a bone every once in a while."
     "Baylor, Baylor," yipped Gaby. "Hawk, hawk!"
     Baylor scanned the sky, then called back. "That wasn't a hawk, it was a sparrow." He rolled his eyes and turned back to us. "I better go and calm her down. I hate it when she gets worked up over a sparrow." 
     We watched him go, then once again returned to our duties. 
     "Schnapps! You stay right there," called out an authoritative voice.
     “Vat now? Doesn't anyone around here understand dat I have an appointment to keep," she said with a heavy sigh. 
     A big, burly, dog came charging up our road. His wooly fur was all black except for a white inverted triangle on his chin. He stood a little too close and huffed his foul breath over our heads. 
     "Is dis da kid, den,” he asked in his gruff voice.
     "Yes, this is Fritter," Schnapps said, not backing down from his intimidating presence. I fought the urge to cower behind Schnapps, but the little voice inside me told me to be brave. 
     "Why have you been ignoring us," he demanded.
     “Why are you in such a hurry to meet her? Does Pierre have to go shopping for a new ugly sweater?"
     The big dog balked at her retort. "I wouldn't be talkin' 'bout Mr. DeLaCroix likes dat if I were you."
     “Vell, unlike you and de rest of the dogs around here, I am not scared of Pierre and his stupid sweaters. Vere does he get dose cheap looking knock-offs anyvays? De shelter lost and found."
I couldn't help but laugh, and got the stink eye from the scary dog.
     "I'll ask again," Schnapps growled. “Vat is your boss's hurry?"
     "He wants to talk to da little dog before da big score tonight."
     "Fine," Schnapps said. "But if he thinks he's going to recruit her, he better think again."
     "Bring her down to da corner this afternoon," said the big dog before trotting back down the road.
I exhaled for the first time in what seemed like forever.
     "Was that...Cubby," I asked Schnapps as we watched him disappear over the horizon.
     "Yes. Dat was Cubby," she said continuing back to the house. "It seems ve cannot delay your introduction to De Sweater any longer. I wanted to let you have de time to grow more confident.”
     A shiver ran down my spine. If that was Cubby, the second in command of the Cedar Village Dawg gang, I wasn't looking forward to meeting The Sweater. Cubby frightened me, and knowing that Baylor is intimidated by Cubby, what was Pierre DeLaCroix like. 

     My nap was fitful. When I woke, Schnapps was watching me from her spot on the MaMA's lap, getting her massage. Instead of looking relaxed though, her body stayed rigid, and her eyes keen and focused, as though she was thinking about what she was going to say at the meeting with The Sweater.
     I sat below them and chewed on my paw.
     "Don't worry, little von," Schnapps said. "I'm concocting up a plan as we speak."
     "What do you think he wants with me?"
     "He vill try to recruit you to pull off dis bone heist," She looked at me. Though her eyebrows shaded her eyes,  a brilliant twinkle was still evident. “Ve already know dat dey plan on hitting dat deer carcass and grabbing all the bones before the coyotes do. De Sweater recruits other dogs, like Baylor, Freckles and Sammy to do his dirty vork."
     "So what are we going to do?"
She raised her nose in the air and sniffed, starting to enjoy her rub down.
     “Ve are going to convince him dat you are too small, too young and inexperienced to go on such a big score."
     “Oh. Is that how you feel about me?" I lowered my head, unable to look her in the eyes. I thought I was making progress in my training, showing Schnapps and the MaMA how brave and strong I was, that I was a good dog.
     "Of course not," she said dismissively.
     "Couldn't we just tell him no? That I won't be his lackey?" I didn't like my skills being dismissed and devalued.
     "A dog like Pierre DeLaCroix does not take no for an answer. You have to make him think it vas his idea to reject you."
     Schnapps hopped down from the couch and stretched. She looked over her shoulder and without a word, the MaMA stood and went to the door. We were let out to start our afternoon rounds. At the top of the hill we both scanned the designated meeting place. No one was there yet.
     "Good," said Schnapps. “Ve have some time to work out de details.” 
Charles loped up to the fence and hung his head over the top pole.
     "Good afternoon, Ladies," he said.
Schnapps gave him a dismissive sniff and ran off to the shed. I had the feeling that she'd want me to follow her, but I felt the need for a bit of legal advice. 
     "Charles, may I ask you a question," I directed it at his big head.
     "Is this about the big heist tonight?"
     "How did you know?"
     "One tends to hear many things in the corral," he said twitching his large ears. "I heard The Sweater wants to see you." 
     I sat in amazement. For a neighborhood with a bunch of secrets, everyone sure knew a lot.
     "I don't know what to do," I shook my head, my ears flapped loudly. "That's not what I mean, I know I cannot join them. It's not part of my job, or the moral code instilled in my training. I'm a good dog, I can't be involved in illegal activities." 
     "I'm glad to hear you say that," Charles said, nodding his head. "Keep to your code, listen to what Schnapps says and follow her lead. She's been in this game for a long time, and she's stayed on the right side of the fence." 
     I furrowed my brows. "I wish that were true, Charles."
     He looked at me with a curious expression. "Whatever do you mean?"
     "She admitted to me that she has eaten mice before." I stuck my tongue out in disgust.
     "I thought all dogs enjoyed a furry appetizer every once in a while,” he said with a wistful smirk.
     "Have you ever eaten a mouse?"
     "They do tend to get everywhere, I can't say that I've eaten one on purpose, but I have found them rooting around in my hay," he said with a chuckle. “Though, I think I would know when there was something different about my hay."
     "I guess I shouldn't be so judgmental," I said.
     "Like the saying goes, 'Don't knock it until you've tried it.'" 
     "Fritter," Schnapps shouted. She peered around the corner of the shed and motioned me to come.
     "Thanks for the advice, Charles," I said as I left.
     "Anytime, little brown dog." 
     I crawled under the shed and found Schnapps pacing the small area.
     "Sorry, Schnapps," I said. "Charles was giving me some advice." 
     "And vat did de horse tell you," she asked with raised eyebrows. 
     "He said to trust you, and follow your lead."
     "You do not trust me?" Her voice was steady, but her pained expression told me that she was insulted.
     "No, no. You got it all wrong. I do trust you. I just don't know how this is going to go down, and I'm worried."
     She stared at me for a long moment before speaking again. "You should be worried. De Sweater is a dog dat knows a lot of tricks. Ve just need to be on our toes, make sure ve don't fall for any of dem.”
     "What are we going to do," I asked. 
     "Ven ve go down dere, you let me do de introductions. Don't speak unless he asks you a question, den act silly. Dat shouldn't be too hard for you, I've seen you in a wig,” she said with a playful wink. 
     "You want me to be a Marilyn?" I wagged with excitment. "Should I go get the wig?"
     "No, just pretend you are a goofy dog."
     "Like Baylor, he's pretty goofy." 

     Schnapps sat and pondered the question. “Dat just might work,” she said. “De Sweater already has enough troubles with Baylor, I doubt he would want to recruit another one like him.”
     With the plan in place, we left the shed and headed down the drive to the crossroads. 

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