Authors: Chris Kurtz
illustrations by Guy Francis
whose words of wisdom can cut through my
most frenzied barking
I've been waiting for a signâa sign from my wild brothers that it's time to join their pack. Today could be the day. Just as yesterday could have been the day â¦ but wasn't.
So far today has been pretty normal. But Mona is getting ready to take me to the park. Mona the beautiful. Mona the wonderful. Mona the one who wrapped me in a soft blanket when I was just a little thing.
I'm not little any longer. I'm a predator. A big, tough predator. Okay, I'm not that big. Actually, a
little undersized, maybe. But that could be an advantage. Think of me as a dangerous wolf in a compact size.
That's why Mona never goes to the park without me.
When we leave the safety of the apartment, I set the tone early. Do my job. Make a statement. Create a don't-mess-with-the-bad-boy-Chihuahua-or-the-beautiful-wonderfulness-in-the-flowing-skirt-and-loopy-earrings zone. Before I even step onto the sidewalk, I make up my mind to do my rapid-fire bark at the first person I see. Deep breath, dig down, let 'er rip! Bark, bark, bark. Ulp.
It turns out my target is an old lady pulling a wire cart on two wheels loaded with a large paper bag. Oops. Still, you never know what might be in a paper bag. Mona gets down to my level and scolds me. She seems to think the old lady is harmless and the bag contains groceries.
Mona is nice to everyone. Too nice. But deep down she understands she needs someone with a little grit to keep up the defenses.
Mona apologizes to the old lady while I peek in the bag. Groceries. Don't know how Mona guessed. But anybody can get lucky. Onions, three bananas, a loaf of bread, and â¦ what's this? Tucked down under the bananas, three cans of Tabby TidbitsâChicken Ã la King. A cat lover disguised as an innocent neighbor!
I give that woman another bark to let her know I have her little game figured out. Ulp. Mona tugs me down the street before I can warn the neighborhood.
Next we pass a couple of nasty cats on a windowsill, just sitting there because no one has the guts to make them move out. This is why neighbors with cat food are so dangerous. “Is that a squirrel on a leash?” says one cat.
Very funny. Luckily, I'm loaded with self-control. I decide to ignore them.
The other one laughs like this is the funniest thing she's ever heard. “Eat lots of acorns so you can grow up big and strong.”
That does it. I bark and growl and lunge at them. Go right for the jugular. They're too dumb to even flinch. Just keep on laughing. Hrmpf! Leashes. It's possible they can tell I'm attached to a rope.
“Lobo, mind your manners.” Mona doesn't like me barking at the cats in the neighborhood, even when they start it. I bet she wouldn't mind so much if she could understand what they say.
All the way to the park, I remind myself about how excellent it is to be a dog with wolflike qualities. Cats! All they can dream about is that they come from â¦ gee, let me see now â¦ a cat! Wowee! My great-great-great-grandparents? Tough, beautiful wolves!
Finally we're at the park. There is no feeling in the world like the one you get when the leash comes off and you can run full tilt as far as you want. Of course, I don't stray too far from Mona. Like I said, she needs me.
When we get back to the apartment, Hector, the rat, has been busy. He has his brand-new cardboard-tube home chewed all the way to the ground. “Still sharp, still breaking it all down to
size.” He shows me his teeth. They are yellow and scary looking.
“That was your house,” I say.
“Rats don't need houses,” he says. “They need holes.”
“I need a pack,” I say. “Someday I'm going to find my wolf brothers.”
“You could be my rat brother,” he says. “We're almost the same size.”
I would not be very excited about being a rat brother, but I don't say anything.
Suddenly, his nose goes up in the air. “Falafel.”
“Falafel. Extra hummus, extra onions.” His nose twitches. “Extra yogurt.”
I test the air. The rat is right. There is something delicious out there. But a rat sniffer hasn't been invented that can go up against a dog's nose. I sniff again. “Burrito,” I say. “Beans, not hummus. That's a burrito.”
“Falafel,” says Hector. He's not giving up. And he sounds confident. A small tickle of doubt creeps into my mind. I can smell the spice, now. And is that â¦ yogurt?
“Okay, okay. You nailed it.” That hurts.
“Rat nose one, dog nose zero.” Hector wiggles his behind to celebrate.
I hate losing our Next Top Smell game to a rat, and I especially hate losing to a showboating rat.
“Game's not over,” I say. “Best two out of three. Next Top Smell.” We both test the air.
“You first.” Hector is looking cocky.
I catch the second scent immediately. “Cajun,” I say. “Cajun chicken with black-eyed peas.”
“Chicken yes, Cajun no.” His little rat nose drifts from side to side. “Chinese. Pan fried â¦” He stops. “No, wait. That's not Chinese.”
I can't keep from jumping up and doing a little side-step dance. “I knew it,” I crow. “Someone's cooking Cajun down the hall.” Mona brought Cajun home last week, and I never forget a smell.
“You got me, partner. Score is tied one to one.” He smooths his whiskers. “Nice celebration dance, by the way.”
“Thanks,” I say. “Nice tail wiggle back there. Bump me.”
We bump knuckles through the bars of his cage, finish up Next Top Smell, and I settle in for my morning nap.
Nothing has changed yet. No sign. But I still have a feeling today's the day.
I'm in the middle of a beautiful dream when something hits my nose and wakes me up. There is a wood chip on the floor. Hector is staring at me. “What's your problem?” I say.
“You were having a nightmare,” he says.
“No I wasn't. I was having a nice dream,” I tell him.
“Well, you were twitching,” he says, “and you look dumb when you twitch.”
“All dogs twitch when they dream, Heckles.” I call him Heckles when he annoys me â¦ which is
a lot. “It's a quality we inherited from our wolf ancestors, and it shows how alert we are, even during sleep.”
“It looks weird,” he says. “It looks weird on all dogs, but really weird on Chihuahuas.”
He says this to make me mad. Hector is only a rat and he should be afraid of me. Some creaturesâpet rats for instanceâhave had the wild bred right out of them, and they don't even know when to be afraid. I'm about ready to figure out how to open his cage and bite some wild into his fat rat behind when my extrasensitive ears hear a sound.
It's a special sound, a sign. I wait and it comes again.
This time I know for sure what it is, and I shiver with excitement. A wild lonely howl right in the middle of the city!
I jump up on the couch and run back and forth. “That was a wolf!” I say.
“Somebody save me!” says Hector in a high, fake voice. “A wolf has invaded New York City!”
I ignore his comedy routine and listen with my entire wolflike focus.
,” Glory squawks. I jump. I didn't know she was listening. Glory is a parrot from South America, and she tries to confuse people with her Spanish. “A wolf in the heart of New York City,” she says. “Let's try and think if that is really possible.”
She's almost always on my side. “Don't worry, Glory,” I say. “If brother wolf comes around here, I'll stand between you and him and tell him old birds aren't very tasty.”
,” she says. “My protector. My warrior. And thanks so much for the compliment. I just love being thought of as an old bird.”
“You're welcome,” I say.
means “that's great.” Glory has no idea I can understand almost everything she says in Spanish.
Glory got captured in the Amazon rain forest when she was a young bird and struggled against her cage night and day. But she doesn't mind the quiet life now. “This cage has everything I need,” she says all the time. “Just right for a civilized parrot.”
Mona always leaves the cage door open, and Glory hardly ever even steps out.
“Unfortunately,” I say a little louder, “I won't be able to save everyone. If you are covered in white fur and have a naked tail, it's like wearing a sign that says EXTRA JUICY, and even a warrior cannot keep you safe from the wolf attack.”
“If big brother wolf decides to come up and say hi to us city folk,” says Hector, “remind me to ask him how his city brother can fit so many annoying habits into such a small package.”
I lift one corner of my lip to show Hector my teeth.
The wolf howls again. I spin in a quick circle to locate the direction.
“Now, Lobo,” Glory says. “I can see how you could mistake that sound. But I suspect there have been no wolves in this city since Manhattan was cleared of timber a couple of hundred years ago. I would say that the howl in question is more likely a garbage truck with bad brakes.”