She nodded. “Yep.” Then she added, “If I had it.”
So me and Toby watched her make the first sign:
LOST. LITTLE BLACK-AND-WHITE DOG NAMED WILLY. $500 REWARD.
I pressed my lips together hard to stop myself from smiling when she wrote that
This sure was working out good, I thought.
Then we all sat around the coffee table, making more signs. When we had a bunch, Carmella said, “There. That oughtta do it.”
“You want me and Toby to put some up now?” I said.
Carmella frowned down at the signs in her hand. “Well, I kind of feel like I ought to wait till I have the money, you know?”
“How long is that gonna be?”
“Not long, I hope,” she said. “I'll call Gertie tonight.” She looked down at a dog toy on the floor. A chewed-up rubber slipper. She wheezed a little bit as she bent to pick it up.
“I think I'll go drive around some more,” she said, turning the slipper over and over on her lap. “I can't hardly stand to think about another night without Willy.”
“We'll come back tomorrow, okay?” I said.
Carmella nodded. “Okay.”
Me and Toby watched Carmella drive away, then raced back to our car to get some food scraps for Willy. I put a
biscuit and half a grilled cheese sandwich in a grocery bag, then rummaged through the stuff in the trunk till I found a towel for Willy's bed.
“Okay,” I said. “Let's go.”
Willy sure was glad to see us. He wagged and yipped and carried on. When we got up on the porch, he jumped all over us, licking our faces and all.
When I opened the grocery bag with the scraps, he like to went crazy. He gulped everything down, then licked that bag till there wasn't one little crumb left.
I put my arm around him and laid my head on top of his.
“I promise I'm gonna take you home, okay?” I said. I pulled him onto my lap and stroked his back. He laid his head on my knee and sighed.
“He looks kind of sad,” Toby said.
I looked down at Willy. “Don't be sad, little fella,” I said.
He lifted his doggie eyebrows, and I could see what he was thinking right there on his face. Then the tears that I'd been trying to hold back for so long came spilling out.
“What's the matter, Georgina?” Toby said.
How could I answer that? Should I start with that big red F at the top of my science test today? Or should I just jump right on into how mean our daddy was to
leave us in this mess? And then should I move on to how bad it felt to live in a car while my best friend went to ballet school with somebody better than me? Then I could add the part about Willy. How here we were with this cute little dog who never hurt anybody and now he was all sad and probably scared, too? And then there was Carmella, crying and missing her dog so much? And right in the middle of this sorry mess was me, the sorriest person there ever was.
When Mama got off work that night, we drove over to Wal-Mart. I waited in the car while her and Toby went inside. I pulled out my notebook and read my notes on
How to Steal a Dog.
It sure sounded easy when I read through it. I turned to a fresh page and wrote:
Step 6: When you find some signs about the lost dog, take him back to his owner, get the money, and you are done.
I drew a big circle around the word
. Then I wrote:
If there are no signs, you will have to find the owner of the dog and help them make some signs.
doing that, you will have to practice looking nice
Remember to take real good care of the dog so he won't be hungry or sad or anything.
I circled the word
and under that I wrote:
You will have to wait
see what happens next.
I stared down at my notes. I read the last sentence out loud.
After thinking and worrying half the night, I decided that's what I'd do, just wait and see what happened next.
don't know what made me do it. I just couldn't stop myself. I watched Toby walk down the hall and into his classroom, and then I turned and went right back out the front door. I hurried up the sidewalk and ducked around the side of the school building. When the buses pulled away from the curb and all the kids had gone inside, I started running and didn't stop till I was way on up toward the highway. My backpack bounced against me as I hurried along the side of the road.
I had to see Willy. I just had to.
I turned down the gravel road that led to the old house. I kept my mind on what I had to do (see Willy) instead of what I had just done (hightailed it out of school).
When I got to the house, I took my backpack off and tossed it on the front porch. Then I pushed through the pricker bushes toward the back of the house. Just as I reached the corner, I heard something that made me stop in my tracks.
Somebody was in back of the house, singing!
I jumped into the bushes and ducked down, my heart pounding like nobody's business.
The singing stopped. I held my breath. A man's voice called out, “Are you scared of me or should I be scared of you?”
I knelt in the damp earth and squeezed my eyes shut. My thoughts were jumping around between being scared and trying to figure out what to do. Maybe I could crawl through the thick brush and back out to the road. I pushed a branch aside and flinched when the sound of rustling leaves broke the silence. Willy let out a bark.
“I ain't scared of a coward who won't even show his face,” the man called out toward the bushes.
I lifted my head the tiniest little bit to peer through the leaves. A man was sitting on a log beside the back porch! I ducked down. I tried to crawl away from the house toward the path to the road, but a tangle of wild blackberry bushes blocked the way.
“This your dog?” the man called.
I scrambled to think what to do. Should I jump up and run? Should I call out something?
“Me and this dog are just sittin' here sharing sardines,” the man said. “You want some?”
I pushed some branches down and peered out. Sure enough, there was Willy, sitting on the bottom step of the porch, licking a paper plate. The man stood up and walked a few steps in my direction. I ducked back down.
“I reckon you and me must think alike,” he called toward the bushes. “Never drop your gun to hug a grizzly bear, I always say.”
I crawled a few feet along the ground, trying to get a better view of the man.
“But you don't have to worry, 'cause I ain't no grizzly,” he said. “You think this little ole dog here would eat sardines with a grizzly?”
Then for the second time that day, I just up and did something without thinking. I stood up, pulled the branches aside, and said, “His name is Willy.”
The man looked in my direction. “Well now, I do declare,” he said. “I sure am glad you ain't a grizzly, neither.”
I stepped out of the bushes and Willy started wagging his tail and kind of prancing with his front legs. The man chuckled.
some tail waggin' if I ever saw it,” he said.
Part of me was saying,
Georgina, stop what you're doing and get on out of here.
But I never was too good at listening to my own self, so I just stood there and checked things out.
The man had nailed one end of a blue tarp to the side of the house and tied the other end to a tree to make a shelter. A ratty sleeping bag was stretched out on the ground beneath it. Leaning against the porch was a rusty old bicycle with a wooden crate strapped on the
back. An American flag dangled from the end of a long, skinny pole duct-taped to the crate.
The man gestured toward the bike.
“Easy to park and don't need gas,” he said.
He grinned and I caught a glimpse of a shiny gold tooth right in the front. When he gave Willy a pat on the head, I noticed he had two fingers missing. I'd never seen anybody with two fingers missing before.
He must have seen me staring at his hand, 'cause he said, “Got in a tussle with a tractor engine one time.” He wiggled his three fingers at me. “Tractor won,” he said.
I blushed and looked away.
“My name's Mookie,” the man said, tipping his greasy baseball hat.
He grinned again. “Real name's Malcolm Greenbush, but my mama called me Mookie when I was just a little thing and I been Mookie ever since.”
“You got a name?”
“Georgina,” I said. “Georgina Hayes.”
He stuck out that three-fingered hand of his for me to shake. I confess I didn't feel too good about shaking a three-fingered hand, but I did it anyways.
“I don't mean to go prying into your business, Miss Georgina,” Mookie said. “But how come you got your little dog all holed up here in this old house?”
Uh-oh. I hadn't been ready for
question. I had to think fast.
“'Cause we got a new landlord and he says we can't have a dog anymore, so my mama is looking for a new place where we
keep a dog, so I'm keeping him here till she finds one,” I said. There. That sounded pretty good.
Mookie's bushy eyebrows shot up. “That so?” he said.
“Well, I can tell you that dog was hungry enough to eat the south end of a northbound skunk.”
I looked at Willy. He sat on the step and pawed the air with one of his little paws. Then he yawned, curling up his little pink tongue. I sat beside him and pulled him onto my lap.
“I bring him stuff to eat every day,” I said.
Something about the way he said “That so?” made me squirm.
“Except today,” I said. “Today I forgot.”
“Well then, it's a good thing I had them sardines.” Mookie gathered up the paper plate and empty cans and put them in a plastic grocery bag. Then he turned to me and said, “Ain't it?”
I felt squirmy again. “Yessir.”
“Seems kind of a shame to keep a little dog like that tied up all the time.”
I looked down at Willy and ran my hand along his back. “You wanna run a little bit, fella?” I said.
His head shot up off my lap and he whined.
Mookie chuckled. “I think that's a âyes,'” he said.
I untied the string leash from the back porch, and Willy leaped off the steps, jumping up on me and yipping like crazy. I took him around to the gravel road, and off we went. Willy looked like he was ready to bust wide open with the pure joy of running. We raced up and down the road a few times till I finally collapsed right there in the dirt, gasping for breath. Willy sat beside me, panting.
“I don't know which he needed more,” Mookie called from the side of the house. “Them sardines or that run.”
I pulled Willy onto my lap and put my arm around him. He licked my face and then nudged me with his nose.
Mookie strolled out to the road where me and Willy were sitting. “He sure is a smart little fella,” he said. “You had him long?”
“Uh, kind of.”
“Guess it's pretty easy to love a dog like that.” Mookie picked up a piece of gravel and hurled it into the trees. A loud thwack echoed through the woods.
“I bet you miss him a lot,” he said. “I mean, you know, not having him in that apartment of yours.”
I nodded, stroking Willy's head and trying to keep
my face from looking as squirmy as my insides were feeling.
Mookie hurled another rock into the woods. “I had me a dog when I was a boy,” he said.
“Oh, just a little ole half-breed,” he said. “Uglier than homemade soap, that dog was. And dumb? My daddy used to say he didn't have both oars in the water.” He chuckled. “But, lawd, me and him was closer than white on rice.” He shook his head. “I sure did love that dog.”
He reached down and scratched the top of Willy's head. Willy gave Mookie one of those doggie smiles of his.
“Dogs are just like family, ain't they?” Mookie said.
I looked at Willy, and no matter how hard I tried not to, I kept seeing Carmella's sad face and hearing Carmella's heartbroken voice.
I stood up and brushed the dirt off my jeans.
“Where do you live?” I said.
“Yesterday, today, or next Thursday?” Mookie grinned, making his gold tooth glitter in the sunlight.
“Well, um, yesterday, I guess.”
“Over there.” He jerked his head and kind of rolled his eyes.
“Over there where I was.”
“In a house?”
“A house?” he said real loud, like I was crazy to ask that. “Naw.”
He opened his arms wide and said, “Out here. Outside.”
Mookie nodded. “Yep.”
“'Cause I don't have to paint the air or tar-paper the sky or mop the ground. All I got to do is breathe.”
“That's stupid,” I said.
“I better go,” I said, leading Willy up the path to the back of the house. Mookie followed along behind us, whistling. I took Willy up to the back porch and tied his leash to the doorknob.
“How long are you staying here?” I said.
“Not long,” he said. “I leave my feet in one place too long, they start growing roots.”
“Oh.” I gave Willy one last pat on the head. “Then, bye.” I made my way down the rickety steps. “And thanks for the sardines. For Willy, I mean.”
Mookie tipped his hat. “My pleasure.”
As I pushed through the bushes toward the front of the house, I had an uneasy feeling. My worries seemed to be piling up, one on top of the other, like bricks on a wall.
I waited in the car until it was time to go back to
school and get Toby. All afternoon, I tried to concentrate on what I had to do next. I went over my
How to Steal a Dog
notes in my mind and thought about how good I'd done so far.
done good, hadn't I? I mean, I'd found the perfect dog. I'd stolen him. I'd put him in a good place where he was safe. Now all I had to do was wait for Carmella to get the reward money. I bet by the time me and Toby got over to Carmella's, she'd have money, and then I could just move on to the last step in my dog-stealing plan.
Shoot, I bet me and Toby and Mama would be in our nice new apartment just about any day now.