Authors: Gordon Korman
With the two men occupied, she scampered over to the SUV, popped the hatch, and leaned close to a clipped ear. “Wake up, buddy!” She cupped her hands together, allowing the basket of her palms to fill up with rain. Then she dumped the water over his head and snout. “Nap time's over. Let's go.” She repeated the action â cup, fill, dump; cup, fill, dump. Luthor didn't even flinch. Her one satisfaction was that Swindle's car now smelled like wet dog. She had managed to splash everything in the back, which was not much â an ice scraper with the logo of the rental company, several empty snack bags and wrappers, and a frayed and finger-marked file folder with a sheaf of crinkled papers protruding from it.
Her eyes fell on the exposed letterhead of the top page:
STATE OF NEW YORK, COUNTY OF NASSAU
Court papers! This was a file about Luthor!
Breathlessly, she opened the folder, and found herself looking at Judge Bittner's order for the Drysdales to hand over the Doberman pinscher known as Luthor. The next item was a packet from a company called Pedigree Research, L.L.C. It was hard to follow, but it seemed to be Luthor's family tree, going back dozens of generations. Apparently, Luthor could be traced all the way back to 1890, when Karl Louis Freidrich Dobermann developed the breed.
“Dude, you're an aristocrat,” she murmured to the slumbering dog.
She skipped down to a section in boldface type at the bottom of the fourth page under the heading SPECIAL NOTE:
Here we see a classic example of the so-called “Koenig Doberman,” an oversized yet perfectly pure version of the breed first noted in the Schwabian Alps in the early 1950s. Although it was believed at the time that the Koenigs had been interbred with Great Dane bloodlines, this has been proven false. It is now regarded as a naturally occurring phenomenon. Today, the Koenig Doberman is extremely rare. Luthor may be the only purebred example in the United States . . .
“No wonder Swindle wants you,” Pitch whispered. “You're probably worth a fortune.”
She turned to the very back of the file, and there it was. She might have passed over it, since it was much less official-looking than the other papers in the file. The words
Cedarville Dog Pound
had been scribbled in ballpoint pen at the top of a generic form. It attested to the fact that S. Wendell Palomino was hereby relinquishing his ownership of the Doberman Luthor to the care of the Cedarville Pound, and that he would not be reclaiming him. Swindle's signature was unmistakable at the bottom of the page.
The expression on Pitch's face was something close to unholy glee. “Gotcha,” she whispered, folding the paper in quarters and cramming it in the cargo pocket of her climbing shorts. This was the missing document that proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that Luthor belonged to the Drysdales. When he saw this, Judge Bittner would reverse his court order in a heartbeat, and Savannah's long nightmare would be over.
Pitch frowned. Judge Bittner wasn't here. And when Swindle took off with Luthor, who was right and who was wrong wouldn't matter anymore. Even if Savannah showed this document to the judge, he might have no power at all over a dog that had been taken to California.
Pitch wanted to howl her frustration to the four winds. To have the solution to everything but no way to put it into action created an anger that almost generated heat. But what could she do? She couldn't wake the dog up, and she couldn't carry him away. She had no idea where she was, and no phone to communicate with the rest of the team or the outside world.
She set her jaw. She was a climber, and climbers learned to rely on themselves for everything because they couldn't always count on somebody else being there to come to the rescue. She shouldn't need anybody else. She should be able to do this all by herself.
Too bad she couldn't just get in the car and step on the gas. Wouldn't that be something â for Swindle to look out the window and see his SUV, his Koenig Doberman, and his future plans for wealth and revenge disappearing down the road.
When the answer came to her, it was so simple that it brought a smile to her lips. Maybe
couldn't drive, but she could also fix it so that no one else could, either.
With a glance at the house to confirm that the coast was still clear, she snuck to the driver's door, reached under the dashboard, and popped the hood. Then she came around to the front and peered in at the engine. How did you disable a car? Melissa probably knew, but she was miles away at Ta-da!
Pitch unclipped her climbing knife. Since the car was off, there would be no electricity in the wires. She cut every cable and connection she could see. If that didn't shut down the SUV, nothing would. Gently, she eased the hood closed, and did the same to the engine of the pickup. Then she returned to the security of the bushes. She was wet, tired, lost, and helpless, yet exhilaration rushed through her like the power from a backup generator.
She couldn't wait until these two clowns tried to start their cars.
f Ben wasn't too thrilled with this adventure, Ferret Face was in open revolt.
The little creature peered out from Ben's collar and hissed vigorously, partly protected from the downpour by his master's chin. Ben knew from experience that this was a sign of ferret displeasure. But never before had he heard the sound so loud, so bitter, and for so long a time, as on this bike ride.
“Cut it out, Ferret Face. I
it,” he mumbled, hunched over the handlebars into the wind and rain. “You think this is my idea of a fun day?”
He felt as if he'd been riding forever, although that might have been the sheer misery of the weather. He was as wet as if he'd jumped in a pool with all his clothes on. His shorts felt like they'd been permanently epoxied to the banana seat. His thighs had chafed through all three layers of skin. His leg muscles were in agony, and his neck had stiffened to the point of locking completely. That last symptom was fine with Ben. If he turned his head, he might lose his laser-straight focus on the tire track of the pickup. The only thing worse than enduring this torture was doing it for nothing â making a wrong turn and winding up lost as well as drenched, exhausted, in big trouble for disappearing from camp, and dealing with a mutinous ferret.
Ben hadn't been thrilled when Ebony Lake had refused to take Ferret Face. Still, he figured there was one advantage to going to a different summer camp than Griffin: No way would he get mixed up in another one of his best friend's plans. Yet here he was, miles from Endless Pines, drenched and half-dead, pedaling his guts out for Operation Hideout. He couldn't lose Luthor â and he was becoming even more concerned about Pitch. She still hadn't called. Either that or his phone had become so waterlogged in his pocket that it was no longer working. Anything was possible in this monsoon.
He had been traveling in the same muddy tire rut for so long that when he finally bounced out of it, he nearly lost control of the bike, wheeling around in a panic.
What happened to the tracks? Why did they stop?
Then he realized that the tracks
stop. They pulled off the road onto the property of a small cottage. And there was the pickup â a red crew cab parked next to a small SUV.
Ferret Face angled his long nose around Ben's chin to peer up at him hopefully.
“This is the place,” Ben confirmed.
His momentary triumph at having tracked down the vehicle that had made off with the Doberman was soon replaced by an overpowering icy dread. Luthor's kidnapper was a professional criminal working for Swindle â a sleazy, ruthless moneygrubber determined to exploit the poor dog and then come back to ruin all their lives. Ben had to assume that the driver of the other car wasn't exactly the Tooth Fairy, either. So he couldn't just knock on the door and demand Luthor in the name of truth, justice, and the American way. In fact, it wasn't a really smart idea to let the occupants of the cottage know he was even here.
He stashed the bike in the roadside ditch, where it looked like it belonged. The stealthiest approach to the house seemed to be a line of bushes that passed by a front window. If he could see inside, he might have a better idea of what he was up against. Then he could call Griffin at Ebony Lake and ask what his next move should be.
He ducked into the thick shrubbery and began to inch his way on all fours toward the house. The mud was unimaginable, and the scratchy brambles forced Ferret Face to take refuge under Ben's left arm, where he clung for dear life, claws digging into the soft flesh.
Ben was making steady, if painful, progress, when suddenly a human forearm appeared out of the leafy wetness and slammed into his jaw. He saw stars. A second strike came from the right â an open-handed slap to the ear. This time the stars had streamers. Next it was a heavy boot coming his way. He dodged before it took his head off, but his roll flushed Ferret Face out of his hiding place. The little fellow fell to the dirt, landing on all fours, back arched, teeth bared, ready to fight for his master.
A gasp of shock came from the attacker.
Ben was even more surprised. “Pitch? What are you doing here?”
“Some guy grabbed Luthor out of the tower,” she whispered. “I couldn't let him get away, so I jumped in the payload of his truck. How did you find us?”
“It's a long story,” Ben admitted. “Turns out Ferret Face likes steak. And before I knew it, I was on a bike following your tire tracks.”
“A bike?” she echoed. “Ben, that's awesome! Now we've got a way to get out of here!”
Ben was incredulous. “Luthor can ride a bike?”
“Luthor's been tranquilized,” Pitch told him. “He's out cold in the back of that SUV. And you know whose rental it is? Swindle's!”
“He came himself this time?”
Pitch nodded. “I guess he got sick of hiring people who kept messing up.”
Ben looked haunted. “The amount that guy hates us gives me the creeps. I mean, I hate him, too, but I'm not basing the rest of my life on it.”
“Don't obsess about it,” Pitch advised in a no-nonsense tone. “We have to act fast. If they loaded Luthor straight into the SUV, it means they're planning on leaving pretty soon.”
“But what can we do?” Ben protested. “The bike's barely rideable. Who knows if it'll take two of us? And definitely not two of us carrying a ten-ton dog.”
“No, no, no. We'll drape him over the seat and walk him out of here.”
Ben looked worried. “We won't get very far. They've got cars.”
Pitch could not hold back a diabolical grin. “Well, they have and they haven't. I mean, the cars are here, but they probably won't start.” She reached into her pocket and showed him a fistful of multicolored wires, torn and broken, some contacts still attached. “I made a few minor adjustments.”
He regarded her in awe. “You've got more guts than brains. But you've got to know that we can't wheel him all the way back to camp.”
“We don't have to,” she argued. “We just have to get him away from Swindle. Listen â I found something important in the SUV. Remember that missing form from the Cedarville Pound? It proves that Swindle gave Luthor up, which means the Drysdales adopted him fair and square. Well, I've got it right here.” She patted her pocket.
Ben brightened. “That's fantastic! Here's my phone â let's call the police, and all this can be over.”
Pitch shook her head. “Swindle still has the court order, and that carries the most weight until it's overturned. Cops aren't judges; they'd just give the dog to Swindle until Bittner rules on the new evidence. By that time, Swindle could take Luthor to California and disappear. Even if the Drysdales win, it'll take years â and tons of money on legal fees â to get a Long Island court ruling enforced on the other side of the country.”
“How unfair is that?” Ben complained. “It was bad enough when Swindle had the law on his side. But now
have the law on
side, and we're no better off!”
Pitch shrugged. “As long as we've got Luthor, we're still in this fight.”
Giving the cottage's front window a wide berth, the two retrieved Ben's bike from the ditch and leaned it against the SUV.
“Where'd you get this thing?” Pitch remarked, taking in the ancient rusted frame, now even muddier than before. “The Smithsonian?”
“We're using it for dog transportation, not to enter into the Tour de France,” Ben retorted. “Be grateful for the banana seat. That's a little extra room for Luthor.”
Deciding to move a huge, unconscious Doberman and actually doing it were two very different matters. A hundred fifty pounds was a lot of weight for any two kids to carry; to have it disproportionately spread throughout the rippled musculature of a large canine body made it nearly impossible. Eventually, the stronger and more athletic Pitch got underneath the heavier head, shoulders, and front legs, leaving Ben to contend with the hindquarters.