Authors: Gordon Korman
amp Endless Pines was aptly named. Located in rugged, hilly terrain, the coniferous forest stretched in all directions as far as the eye could see.
Ben just called it Camp Endless. If it had been up to him, he never would have signed up for a program that was so hipped on outdoor adventure activities â hiking, rafting, caving, parasailing, wind surfing â a guy could break his neck just reading the list! And that didn't even include the climbing! Mountain scrambles, top roping, Alpine training, bouldering. It was fine for Antonia “Pitch” Benson, who was practically born with a carabiner for a diaper pin. She and her whole family were big-time rock-jocks.
Ben Slovak was here for exactly one reason. Camp Endless was the only summer camp that would accept Ferret Face. And without the little ferret under Ben's shirt giving him strategic wake-up nips, there would be no way to keep Ben's narcolepsy under control. The last thing he needed was to fall asleep in the middle of a camp activity like canoeing, or a hike. An unscheduled nap was annoying enough at home. In the wilderness it could be fatal.
The choice had become Endless Pines or nothing. And Mr. and Mrs. Slovak had made it very clear that nothing was not an option.
So here he was, climbing rocks and counting the minutes until he could go home.
How could it be worse? Ben wasn't sure. But he had a sinking feeling it had something to do with hiding a giant Doberman for the last ten days of camp.
Speaking of climbing, Pitch shinnied down the trunk of a tall pine and dropped at his feet.
“Well?” Ben queried. “Did you see the truck?”
“Not yet, but it can't be far. I think we should go out to the barrier. They could be along any minute.”
The barrier was a huge limb, itself the size of a small tree. It had taken Pitch and Ben twenty minutes to drag it out where it would block the narrow dirt road. The job had been so stressful and sweaty that Ferret Face had tried to abandon his post inside Ben's T-shirt. The ferret had been a little less reliable lately. He wasn't enjoying Camp Endless any better than Ben was.
The two concealed themselves in the underbrush by the side of the road. That was another thing about this place. The minute you stepped outside the camp, you might as well have been a thousand miles from the nearest other human.
“You know,” Pitch said conversationally, “the minute I heard Luthor was going to Logan and Melissa, I knew it was only a matter of time before he ended up here with us.”
“Do you think Swindle's spies will find him here?” Ben asked nervously. He couldn't imagine anyone finding “here,” much less a single animal hidden here.
“They'll probably try,” Pitch said grimly. “I hope The Man With The Plan has some really great ideas on how we can make this work, because we've officially run out of camps. I'd hate to see the poor mutt go back to Swindle.”
“What I'm worried about is what Swindle's going to do once he's gotten rich off Luthor's dog-show skills. Remember, he's already promised to move back to Cedarville and devote his money to ruining our lives. I've got enough problems without some sleazy millionaire's revenge fantasy.”
“None of it happens if we can keep the dog under wraps,” Pitch reminded him in a soothing tone. “Wait â I think I hear something.”
A motor, distant but unmistakable, was the only sound in the woods that wasn't coming from something gross rubbing its legs together.
The van appeared out of the trees, bouncing slowly along the rutted dirt road. It came to a stop in front of the fallen tree branch.
Ferret Face poked his head out of Ben's collar and looked on with interest. When the driver began the arduous task of hauling the heavy limb out of the way, Pitch and Ben swung into action. They darted around to the back of the vehicle and opened the twin doors. Griffin, Savannah, and Luthor jumped down, and the five disappeared into the trees.
“Thanks, you guys!” Griffin greeted them. “Is everything prepared?”
“Nothing's prepared,” Pitch said irritably. “You texted us barely an hour ago. What were we supposed to do â build a safe house?”
“The most important thing is to find somewhere for Luthor to hide,” Savannah put in. “It should be comfortable, but not too obvious, close enough so you can bring him food and come to visit regularly, because the poor sweetie has just been through a terrible experience. He needs to feel loved.”
“Is it okay if he just feels liked?” asked Pitch. “I can do liked.”
“There aren't a lot of doghouse options around here,” Ben warned. “We're lucky we have shelter for ourselves. This is a roughing-it kind of camp.”
Griffin looked around. Tall trees stood like sentinels all about them. At last, they heard the bakery van continuing on its way, and the group ventured out of the woods to the relative openness of the road.
“What's that?” Griffin was pointing at what looked like a small hut towering over the top of the trees.
Pitch followed his gaze. “That's an old ranger station. Back in the day, they used to send a guy up there to scout for forest fires. But now that's done by helicopter and satellite.”
“So it's just empty?” Griffin probed.
“Wait a minute,” Savannah interjected suspiciously. “You're not thinking of stashing Luthor a mile in the sky! How would you even get him up there?”
“Only one way to find out,” Griffin decided.
Skirting the camp, the group made its way through the woods. The closer they got to the abandoned station, the taller it seemed, towering in the sky easily thirty feet clear of the highest treetop. At last, they reached its base, where a faded sign proclaimed:
Griffin licked his finger and cleaned off the rest of the message. It now read:
“Is it safe?” asked Savannah dubiously. She stared at the steep, rickety steps that spiraled up around the thick wooden support pole.
“Safer than turning Luthor over to Swindle,” said Griffin briskly.
Savannah started up the stairs. “I'll go first.”
It was a very tentative procession that made its way to the top of the ranger tower. Only Pitch, the climber, found the going easy. The others hugged the center pole, not daring to look down. Luthor whined and protested, and only Savannah's reassuring voice kept him putting one paw in front of the other. Ferret Face peeked out of Ben's sleeve, spotted the ground far below, and retreated with a terrified squeak.
At last, they reached the top and noted with relief that the platform was solid beneath their feet. There were no walls, although torn screening still enclosed most of the space. A lot of bugs had made their way in, and at least one family of birds was nesting beneath the roof. But the shelter was basically dry. Best of all, it seemed like the last place on earth anyone would look for a fugitive Doberman.
Then came the hard part â convincing Luthor that he had to part with his beloved Savannah yet again. For the first time, the dog seemed angry, even when Savannah used her best dog-whispering voice. He seemed to be saying,
I've done my part, several times, and this is asking too much of me.
Savannah was brokenhearted. “I'll stay here with him!” she quavered.
“Don't be crazy!” Griffin argued. “If either one of us isn't back at Ebony Lake by bed check, there'll be a big stink, and everything's going to get found out, including Luthor's whereabouts. And that's his one-way ticket to Swindle.”
“I just feel so bad for him.” Savannah sniffled. “He's been such a trouper through all this! And what do we do? We ask him for more sacrifice!”
Luthor lay down on the floor, glaring at them resentfully, his hot breath moving the cobwebs that decorated every corner.
“Actually, he seems pretty cool with it,” Ben pointed out. “I mean, he's bummed, but he isn't barking or anything.”
“This is a hundred times worse than barking,” said Savannah reproachfully. “He's given me his trust, and I've betrayed him. He may never forgive me.”
“For crying out loud,” Pitch exclaimed, exasperated, “he's a
. He'll forgive you with the first Puppy Treat.”
“You know,” Griffin put in, “we should really get moving if we're going to make the next laundry truck west.”
“I know it's not easy, sweetie,” Savannah pleaded with the Doberman. “But this is the only way.”
Luthor looked daggers at her as she clipped his leash around the platform railing. A low growl began deep in his throat.