thought about my plan for a couple of days before I decided to tell Toby. “You got to keep this a secret,” I told him.
I glanced out the back window of the car, then pulled the beach towel over our heads. Mama had left for work, and me and Toby were waiting till it was time to walk up to the bus stop.
Toby nodded in the darkness under the towel. “I will,” he said.
I pushed my face up closer to his and said, “You can't tell
I knew it was risky telling Toby my plan, but I figured I had to. Mama said he had to stay with me after school, so there I was, stuck with him. I couldn't even go to Luanne's or anything. How was I gonna steal a dog without Toby finding out? Then he'd go and tell Mama, for sure. If I made him think he was part of my secret plan, maybe he wouldn't be the tattletale baby that he usually is.
“Here's my plan,” I said.
I paused a minute to add some drama 'cause Toby likes drama. He stared at me with wide eyes. His breath smelled like tuna fish, and I was wishing I hadn't covered us up with the towel like that.
“We're gonna steal a dog,” I said. “How about
I grinned and waited for him to say “Hot dang” like he does, but he just stared at me with his mouth hanging open. That tuna fish odor swirled around us inside our beach towel tent. I waved my hand in front of my nose and flipped the towel off of us.
“Jeez, Toby,” I said. “Can't you brush your teeth?”
He glared at me. “How?” he hollered. “There ain't no sink in here.” He waved his arms around the car.
“Use the water in the cooler,” I said.
“No way. It's cruddy.”
“Well, anyways,” I said. “Don't you want to know
we're gonna steal a dog?”
He nodded, sending a clump of greasy hair flopping down over his eyes. He had Mama's straight, copper-colored hair, but I had to go and get Daddy's curly ole black hair that I hate. One more good reason to be mad at my daddy.
I smoothed the crumpled yellowing sign out on the seat between us. “Because of
,” I said.
Toby looked at it. “What's it say?”
“For crying out loud, Toby, you're in third grade.” I jabbed a finger at the sign. “
it says. Five hundred
dollars reward for this ugly ole dog. Can you believe that?”
“He's not ugly.”
,” I said. “Her name is Mitsy. See?” I jabbed at the sign again.
Toby squeezed his eyebrows together. “Why are we gonna steal that dog?”
dog, you idiot,” I said. “We're gonna steal a
“I don't know yet,” I said. “That's why I need you to help me.”
I looked out the window again. The alley beside the auto parts store was empty. I slouched down lower in the seat and motioned for Toby to come closer.
“Listen,” I whispered. “We're gonna find us a dog that somebody loves so much, they'd pay a reward to get it back.” I poked Toby with my elbow. “Get it?”
“Pay a reward to who?” Toby said.
I sighed and shook my head. “To
“But why would they pay us if we steal their dog?”
I rolled my eyes and flopped back against the seat.
“I swear, Toby, sometimes I wonder about you.” I sat back up and took him by the shoulders, looking him square in the eyes. “The person who loves the dog won't
it was us that stole it. The person will think we
do you get it?”
Toby grinned. “Okay,” he said. “Where's the dog?”
“We've got to
the dog,” I hollered.
I slapped my hand over my mouth and glanced quickly around us. The alley was still empty.
“We've got to
the dog,” I repeated in a whisper. “Mama said five hundred dollars is enough to get a place to live. If we steal a dog, we can get five hundred dollars, see?”
Toby had a look on his face that made me think I'd made a mistake sharing my plan with him.
“Listen, Toby,” I said. “It's the only way we're ever gonna have us a real place to live instead of this car, you hear?”
“Don't you want a real place to live?”
He nodded again.
“Then we got to steal us a dog and get the reward,” I said. “And if you tell anyone, and I mean
you might as well just say your prayers and kiss this earth goodbye, you hear me?”
“Okay,” he said. “But how do we steal a dog?”
“Don't worry,” I said. “I'm working on it.”
After school that day, me and Toby raced back to the car. When I unlocked it, Toby climbed in the driver's seat and started spreading peanut butter on a saltine cracker with his finger. I climbed in the backseat and locked the doors. Mama had told us to stay put. If anybody asked us
what we were doing, we were supposed to say we were waiting for our mama, who was in the bank next door.
I rummaged through my trash bag of stuff. When I found my spiral notebook with the glittery purple cover, I opened it to a fresh page and wrote:
How to Steal a Dog
I wrote the date in the margin:
Then, next to that, I wrote:
Step 1: Find a Dog.
I chewed on the end of my pencil and looked out the window. Someone came out of the side door of the auto parts store and threw a cardboard box in the Dumpster. I slouched down real quick and waited till I heard the shop door slam shut. Then I wrote:
These are the rules for finding a dog:
1. The dog must not bark too much.
2. The dog must not bite.
3. The dog must be outside by itself sometimes.
4. The dog must be loved a lot and not just some old dog that nobody cares about.
5. The owner of the dog must look like somebody who will
pay a lot of money to get their dog back, like maybe someone who has a big house and rides in a limo or something like that.
But then I scratched out that part about the limo 'cause who ever saw a limo in Darby, North Carolina?
I chewed my pencil some more and looked up at the top of the car. Dark brown stains formed patterns like clouds up there. Over the driver's side, Mama had used safety pins to put up phone numbers for me and Toby in case we needed somebody. I guess she forgot we didn't have a phone in that stinking car.
As I read my list of rules over again, I felt myself splitting right in two. Half of me was thinking,
Georgina, don't do this. Stealing a dog is just plain wrong.
The other half of me was thinking,
Georgina, you're in a bad fix and you got to do whatever it takes to get yourself out of it.
I sat there in that car feeling myself get yanked one way and then the other. So I just made myself stop thinking, and I read those rules one more time.
I was pretty sure I had covered everything. I stuffed my notebook way down in the bottom of my bag and said, “Come on, Toby. Let's go find us a dog.”
kay,” I said to Toby. “You go that way and I'll go this way.”
He squinted in the direction I had pointed.
“I don't see no dogs down there,” he said.
I sighed. Maybe I should've asked Luanne to help me. I wanted to, but I just had this feeling she would mess things up worse than Toby was liable to. Not on purpose, but she just would. Mainly because of her mama, who finds out everything we do even if Luanne doesn't tell. And Mrs. Godfrey doesn't like me one little bit. She pinches her face up real hateful-like when I go over there. One time I saw her wiping off Luanne's bedroom door with a sponge right where I had touched it. Like I had left my cooties there to infect her family. And when I used to invite Luanne over to my apartment, her mama would always find a reason to say no. She could pluck a reason out of the air like a magician plucks a rabbit out of his hat. A dentist appointment. A visiting relative. A sudden need to shop for new shoes.
So I knew asking Luanne to help me steal a dog
would probably be a bad idea. But Toby? I could see he was gonna be more trouble than help. But what choice did I have?
“Listen, Toby,” I said real slow and calm. “You got to walk down there and
. Look in the yards. Look on the porches. Look in the
even. Just look, okay?”
He nodded. “Okay.” He started off down the street, then stopped. “What do I do if I see one?”
“Come get me.”
“And remember the rules for the dogs,” I said. “You know, about not barking and all that? Okay?”
We went in opposite directions. The first dog I saw came trotting right up the street toward me. He was brown with tufts of fur that stuck together in clumps. Every few feet, he stopped to sniff the ground.
“Hey, boy,” I called to him.
He looked up and wagged his scrawny tail. His face had bald spots on it. One eye was closed up into a slit with gnats swarming all around it. Nope, that dog wouldn't do. Nobody cared about
, that was for sure.
I gave him a little pat on the head 'cause I felt sorry for him, then continued on down the street. When I came to a house with a trailer beside it, a dog started barking. A shrill, yipping bark. When I got closer, I saw a dog tied to a clothesline on the side of the house.
A short-legged dog with a smooshed-in nose and a curlicue tail. When he saw me, he raced back and forth along the clothesline, his yippy bark getting shriller and shriller.
From inside the trailer, a man's voice hollered, “Shut up, Sparky!”
Nope. That dog wouldn't do, either. Too noisy.
A few houses farther on, a great big dog with bushy black fur sat by the side of the road watching me. When I tried to pet him, he slinked away with his tail between his legs. Then some woman came out with a rolled-up newspaper. She smacked him on the rear, hauled him off by the collar, and pushed him up under the porch.
“Get under there like I told you,” she said.
Then she stomped back up the steps and went inside. She didn't seem like someone who would pay money for her dog.
Finally, at the end of the street, I saw a dog who had
written all over him. He was clean and fluffy with a red bandanna tied around his neck. He didn't bark when I got closer. He even let me pet him, wagging his tail like he was the happiest dog on earth. I was about to think I'd found the perfect dog to steal, but then I took one look at his house and I changed my mind. The front steps were rotted right off the porch, lying in a heap of lumber in the red-dirt yard. Bricks and boards were stacked to make steps into the tiny house with its peeling paint and torn screens. A plastic window box had
come loose on one side, spilling dirt and dried-up brown flowers into the bushes. A rusty old car sat on cinder blocks in the gravel driveway.
Nope. That dog wouldn't do, either. The people in that house weren't rich. I bet they'd never pay five hundred dollars for their dog, no matter how much they loved it.
It looked like it was going to be harder than I thought to find a dog that fit all the rules in my notebook.
I crossed over to the corner and waited for Toby. When I saw him skipping up the road toward me, I called out, “Any luck?”
“I only saw one, and he growled at me.”
“Only one? Are you sure?”
“I saw some cats.”
“No, cats won't do.”
“They just won't,” I said. “Let's try one more street. Then we gotta get on back to the car before Mama gets off work.”
I hurried over to the next block. Toby kept stopping to pick stuff up along the side of the road. Rocks and acorns and wrappers and things. I had to go back and yank him a couple of times. When we got to the corner, I looked at the street sign. Whitmore Road.
“This one looks good,” I said. “Let's go up one side and down the other. You stay with me.”
We walked along the street, peering over fences, sneaking into backyards. No luck.
Suddenly Toby pointed. “Look at
house,” he said.
Just ahead of us was a huge brick house set back off the street a ways. All the other houses on that street were small, one-story, wooden houses with tiny yards and no porches. But that brick house was two stories high. I bet it had a whole bunch of rooms inside.
“Come on,” I said to Toby, “let's go check it out.”
We ran to the house. It towered over the little houses next to it. The front yard was the biggest one on the whole street, with a chain-link fence all the way around it. Along the fence was a thick hedge taller than me.
I peered over the gate. That house looked like a mansion. It had a front porch with rocking chairs and a swing painted the same color green as the shutters on the windows. In the yard, there were flowers everywhere, popping up between the bushes, curling around the lamppost, blooming in pots on the front steps.
And then I couldn't hardly believe my eyes. There in the bushes along the porch was a dog. A little black-and-white dog digging so hard that dirt was flying out behind him. His rear end was stuck up in the air and his scraggly tail was wagging away while his front legs worked faster and faster at the dirt.
Then a voice came through the screen door.
“Willy!” A big, fat woman came out onto the porch.
I ducked behind the hedge and pulled Toby down beside me. I put my finger to my lips and said, “Shhhh.”
I waited to hear her holler mean things at that dog for digging up the yard. Then I bet she was gonna come storming off the porch and smack him. But she didn't holler. She laughed! Then she said, “What am I gonna do with you, you naughty little thing?”
I crawled on my hands and knees and peeked through the gate.
The woman was sitting on the porch steps, holding the little dog in her lap and letting him lick her all over her face. When she scratched him up and down his back, he stuck his face in the air, closed his eyes, and kicked one leg, leaving streaks of mud all over her shorts. She took his head in both her hands and rubbed her nose back and forth against his nose. Like the Eskimo kisses my daddy used to give me a long time ago when he loved me.
Then she picked the dog up and went inside.
My insides were getting all swirled around with excitement while I went over the dog-stealing rules in my head. I mentally checked them off one by one. That little dog didn't look like he'd bite a flea. He didn't bark one bit. And it was for sure that dog was loved.
I glanced at the house again. That was one big house. That lady
be rich. Then, as if I needed one more thing to convince me, something caught my attention.
The mailbox next to the gate was kind of rusty and leaning over just a tad, but it had big black letters painted on the side of it that said: THE WHITMORES.
Whitmores? That lady was named Whitmore and this was Whitmore Road.
“Toby!” I said. “That lady
this whole street! Can you believe that?”
His eyes grew big and he shook his head.
I grinned and gave him a thumbs-up.
“Toby,” I said, “I think we just found us a dog.”