tHE DobERmAn’S LifE iS in gRAVe DanGEr
dRoP OuT WhILe yOu stILL caN
nO dOg-GoNe jOkE
FOUR WEEKS EARLIER …
SURVIVING A SIX-WEEK SLEEPOVER WITH
THE MAN WITH THE PLAN
BY BEN SLOVAK
Rule 1: Absolutely NO PLANS (except for this plan for having none)
Rule 2: When in doubt, REMEMBER RULE 1
Rule 3: Non-plans that are really the same as plans (operations, strategies, schemes, brainstorms, plots, ploys, or tactics) are STRICTLY FORBIDDEN
Rule 4: No hair in bathroom sink …
“That one’s definite,” Ben concluded as they crossed the parking lot. “My mom’s a clean freak. And no messing with Ferret Face. He gets really sensitive in warmer weather.”
The small ferret’s needle nose and beady eyes poked out from inside Ben’s collar.
Griffin looked up from the paper just in time to sidestep a curbstone. “I thought you were psyched that I’m staying at your place while my folks are away.”
The Bings were on an eleven-country tour, trying to drum up interest in Mr. Bing’s orchard inventions in Europe.
“I am …” Ben hesitated. No one admired Griffin more than his best friend Ben. But in Cedarville, Griffin Bing was known as The Man With The Plan. And that had not always proved to be a good thing.
“But your folks aren’t,” Griffin concluded.
“They said yes, didn’t they? My dad is totally on board. My mom …”
Griffin made a face. “She thinks I’m a menace.”
“Of course not! It’s just that – well, six weeks is a long time. She’s a little stressed that something might – you know – go wrong.”
“What could go wrong?” Griffin demanded.
The car horn sounded from so close behind them that both boys jumped. A large SUV roared past them and pulled up to the mall’s gleaming entrance. The rear door opened and out jumped Savannah Drysdale and a hulking brown and black form nearly as tall as she was. Luthor, a Doberman pinscher the size of a small pony.
She waved to the boys. “Hurry up, you guys. We don’t want to miss anything.”
Griffin and Ben scrambled after her, but fell back when the huge head swung around and issued a threatening growl. Luthor was perfectly mild mannered and sweet – to Savannah. To the rest of the population, the Doberman was every ounce the trained attack dog he had once been.
At a safe distance, they followed Savannah and Luthor through the automatic sliding doors. The mall’s huge atrium was jam-packed with hundreds of people, dozens of whom had brought their pets. There were dogs of all breeds and all sizes – in arms, carriers, and at the end of leashes. Excited barking filled the soaring space, mingled with a buzz of anticipation from the spectators. All eyes – human and canine – were on the raised dais, where a banner declared:
GLOBAL KENNEL SOCIETY DOG SHOW
Ben turned to Savannah. “I thought you didn’t approve of fluffing up dogs and forcing them to strut around like the Black-Eyed Peas.”
“I don’t,” Savannah admitted. “Animals should be themselves, not glorified wind-up toys. But Electra is different. If she wins a fourth Global Kennel Society show next month, that record will stand forever! Dmitri Trebezhov called her the most perfect canine ever born.”
“Who’s Dmitri Trebezhov?” asked Griffin without much interest.
She stared at him. “I can’t believe you’ve never heard of him. He’s only the greatest dog trainer and handler in history!”
Ben looked around. “Which one is he?”
“He isn’t here! Nobody’s seen him in two years!” Savannah’s face turned tragic. “Meeting him would be my life’s dream. Everything I know about animals comes from his teachings. No one has ever been able to communicate with them better than he can.”
“So what made him go from dog-whispering superstar to dog-whispering hermit?” put in Griffin.
Savannah’s sweeping gesture indicated the hullabaloo in the packed atrium. “Look around you. This isn’t about animals; it’s about money! Mall tours, t-shirts, plush toys. Do you think Electra honestly cares that her paw-prints are on cereal boxes? A handler and a dog are like soul-mates. It’s the purest, most beautiful relationship in the world. That’s why Dmitri quit. He coached Electra to her first Best in Show, but then the big commercial machine took over. He dropped out of sight three hours later.”
“Sounds like kind of a kook to me,” was Griffin’s opinion.
Savannah stroked Luthor lovingly. “Ignore him, sweetie,” she told the Doberman, who had begun to rumble deep in his chest. “He doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”
A drum roll sounded in the atrium, and pink spotlights began to dance across the empty stage. “Ladies and gentlemen,” came a public address announcement. “Our guest of honor has arrived! Put your hands and paws together to welcome the greatest show dog in history, three time Global winner, the Regal Beagle herself, Electra!”
The ovation was deafening – a mixture of applause, cheers, and excited barking. On a sparkling rhinestone leash, the star herself trotted out into the spotlight. Griffin and Ben exchanged a look of utter bewilderment. After the huge buildup and the worshipful crowd reaction, they had expected a larger-than-life glowing canine beauty to glide in on gossamer wings. But the real Electra was kind of small, nicely groomed, and well behaved. She was white with attractive black and brown markings. Long ears, short fur.
Griffin regarded Savannah, whose eyes were riveted to the stage. Behind her, Luthor was up on his hind legs, giant paws on her shoulders, staring at Electra with what looked like approval.
“Maybe I’m missing something,” Griffin said at last, “but isn’t that just a dog?”
“I figured she’d at least be jumping through flaming hula hoops,” Ben agreed in a whisper.
Savannah glared at him. “I pity poor Ferret Face for having to live with someone so out of touch with the animal kingdom.”
Ben’s shirt heaved and wriggled. “Speaking of Ferret Face, I don’t think he’s too happy. All this barking makes him nervous.”
Griffin and Ben retreated a little way down the concourse. It was a good idea, since the crowd became even louder when Electra stepped up onto a platform and posed for photographs. Cameras and cellphones clicked and flashed.
A very tall woman with flaming red hair and a metallic silver raincoat dabbed at her eyes with a tissue. “She’s so beautiful!” She held a camera, but was too overcome to point it at the stage.
The boys sat on a bench, shaking their heads in wonder. They were used to Savannah’s great love of all animals, but these dog show people sure knew how to make a big deal out of nothing.
Griffin removed the folded list of rules from his pocket and handed it back to its author. “Anyway,” he said, “you didn’t have to write all this down because we’re not going to need it. There won’t be any trouble. I promised my parents, and they promised yours.”
Ben looked worried. “It’s always like that. And before you know it, we’re all in the middle of a plan.”
“You don’t have a plan just to have a plan,” Griffin lectured. “You have one because something’s gone wrong and you have to make it right. Our lives are totally fine. Better, even. School’s out, no homework, and we just scored a six-week sleepover. Where’s the downside?”
A noise rose above the hubbub in the atrium – a canine roar so stomach-churningly deep, so ear-splittingly loud, that it could only have come from one source. Griffin and Ben looked back just in time to see Luthor soaring over spectators’ heads in a single bound. He hit the dais with a titanic thump, his hindquarters knocking out one of the poles supporting the arc lights. Down came the heavy ring, the bulbs popping and shattering in a blizzard of flying glass and shooting sparks. Electra darted in terrified circles, yapping rapidly and circling her trainer, who huddled center-stage in the duck-and-cover position. Mall security agents surged forward, along with audience members shocked into action by the sight of the celebrity beagle menaced by disaster.
“What’s going on?”
“That big dog’s attacking Electra!”
“Grab his leash!”
“No!” Savannah shrieked, pushing into the fray in an attempt to reach her dog. “Luthor – come down from there!”
Dozens of spectators poured up the risers to the stage. A forest of hands reached for Luthor’s lead. The Doberman leaped, the leather strap whipping over their heads. The look in the former guard dog’s eyes was fierce and wild.
Griffin and Ben raced onto the scene, although how they might be of any help was a mystery to both of them. The two were scared stiff of Luthor when he was at his calmest, let alone when he’d gone completely ballistic.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” entreated the announcer’s voice over the p.a., “please come down off the dais! It’s not approved for so much weight –”
Electra’s fans ignored him. In their minds, the beloved beagle was in danger, and they had to save her. Soon there were more people on the stage than off it.
“Move it, buster!” Savannah hip checked a two-hundred-fifty-pound security guard out of the way and bulled through the throng to her dog. “Sweetie –” she opened her arms to accept Luthor into a nurturing embrace – “come here –”
It was too late. The wooden stage buckled under the load of so many bodies. It split across the middle, sending people sliding down to the floor. Those who refused to slide hung on for dear life, creating a total collapse at the center. Luthor clamped his jaws around Savannah’s belt and lugged her to safety.
Screams came from the melee they left behind – screams and one prize-worthy yelp.
MALL BRAWL PUMMELS PRIZE POOCH
CEDARVILLE, NY: A stage collapsed at Long Island’s Cedarville Mall on Saturday, injuring 23 spectators and Electra, the most celebrated show dog in the world. The five-year-old beagle suffered multiple bruises, lacerations and a tail out of joint between the sixth and seventh vertebrae.
Electra will recover, veterinarians say, but not in time to defend her title at the Global Kennel Society competition in New York City next month. The beagle was heavily favored to win an unprecedented fourth “Best in Show,” the contest’s highest honor, which would have cemented her reputation as the greatest ever. That dream now lies in the wreckage of the stage, which was set up for a public appearance by Electra to promote the upcoming New York show.
The beagle became trapped in the rubble when the platform buckled after an unidentified dog stormed the rostrum.
“It was all because of this other mutt – the big one,” said a mall security agent, who asked that his name be withheld. He described the canine intruder as “… a real monster, out to destroy everything in its path.”
Ben put down the newspaper. “Do you think Luthor was really trying to attack Electra?”
“No way,” Griffin said firmly. “If he wanted to get to the beagle, she’d be a grease spot right now. Nothing stops Luthor.”
His friend nodded. “Except Savannah. That’s why this is so weird. He usually behaves when she’s around.”
Griffin shrugged. “Nobody’s perfect, not even Savannah.” Their classmate was the greatest animal expert in Cedarville, and hostess to a menagerie of pets that matched some zoos.
Mrs. Slovak, Ben’s mother, appeared in the doorway, her expression serious. “Griffin you’d better come with us. We just got a call from the police.”
Griffin leaped to his feet. “There’s no plan, I swear!”
Mr. Slovak appeared behind his wife. “It’s nothing like that. The alarm company reported a signal from your home. The police will be meeting us there.”
Ben looked worried. “A robbery?” Ferret Face peered out of Ben’s t-shirt, adding a nervous look to the mix.
“That’s what we’re going to find out,” Mr. Slovak replied. “Let’s go.”
The drive was a short one, around two corners and just up the street. A squad car was parked at the curb in front of the Bing house.
An upstairs window stood open, and lights blazed in every room.
“It’s true, man!” Ben breathed. “Burglars must have found out your house was empty!”
“My dad’s inventions!” Griffin exclaimed anxiously. He wasn’t concerned about the family’s possessions. Those could be replaced. But the garage was Mr. Bing’s workshop. It contained a one-of-a-kind prototype for the Orchard Spritz-o-matic, Dad’s latest creation. It wasn’t even patented yet, which made it top secret!
As they exited the car, they heard the alarm wailing through the neighborhood. Seeing the front door open wide, Griffin began to run, but Mr. Slovak held his arm.
“It’s a crime scene.”
Cautiously, they approached the porch and peered into the house. The front hall was deserted.
At that moment, the alarm suddenly cut out. Now they could hear a physical struggle at the top of the stairs.
A deep voice shouted, “Come back here, you lousy ape!” There was the pounding of running feet, followed by a loud thud.
“They caught the guy!” hissed Griffin.
The Slovaks and Griffin stood motionless, all eyes on the stairs, waiting for the officers to bring the culprit down.
Descending footsteps. “Hold still, you little baboon!” hollered a second voice.
Mrs. Slovak wrinkled her nose disapprovingly. “You’d think our police force could make an arrest without calling people names.”
The officers’ shoes appeared, but there was still no sign of their arrestee. And then there they were in the foyer – two burly policemen holding between them a struggling Capuchin monkey.
Detective Sergeant Vizzini regarded them. “You know this – suspect?”
Griffin nodded. “It’s Savannah Drysdale’s monkey. What’s she doing here?”
“I think that’s pretty obvious,” Vizzini rumbled. “Breaking and entering. The suspect got in through the upstairs bathroom vent and had a really good time with some talcum powder. Near as I can tell, nothing’s been stolen – but you might want to count your bananas. I take it you’re not pressing charges?”
“You can press charges against a monkey?” Ben blurted.
“Not with us,” Vizzini deadpanned. He handed Cleopatra to Griffin and turned to his fellow officer. “Make a note for the record that I’m turning the suspect over to the custody of the homeowner. Now if there are no more primates for us to arrest, we’ll be on our way.”
“You know, I’m kind of surprised at Savannah,” Griffin commented as the squad car drove off. “It isn’t like her to let her pets wander around. She’s too freaked out something might happen to them.”
Ben frowned at the capuchin, who was nestled against Griffin’s chest, hanging on for dear life, trembling and chattering. “What’s up with Cleopatra?”
“She’s upset,” his mother decided. “What did you expect? She’s been neglected. I can’t imagine what could have gotten into Savannah. If she’s going to have a houseful of animals, she has to learn to take better care of them.”
Griffin and Ben exchanged an uneasy glance. No one could teach Savannah anything about animal care. She already knew it all, and her pets were more important to her than her own life.
Mr. Slovak produced a cellphone and dialed the Drysdales’ number. “Nobody’s picking up,” he announced after a moment. “They must be out.”
That confirmed it for Griffin and Ben. Cleopatra was on the loose, and Savannah wasn’t even home to know about it?
Something was up. Something big.
The Cedarville Dog Pound was located on a narrow alley off 9th Street, just outside the downtown area. The SUV had been parked there a long time, yet no one had emerged. The passengers could not bring themselves to take that final walk to the building’s front door.
Savannah sat in the rear, her arms wrapped around her beloved Luthor. “I can’t do it, Dad. There must be another way.”
Seated behind the wheel, her father was almost as sad, but his tone was firm. “We’re being sued, Savannah – for far more money than we could ever hope to come up with. I can’t even blame Electra’s owners, really. They stood to make millions if their dog broke the record with a fourth Best in Show. And thanks to Luthor that’s never going to happen. That poor beagle now has a tail that wags like the crank on a casement window.”
“But they’re not going to drop the lawsuit just because he’s not our dog anymore,” Savannah protested. “He’s still did what he did, and they still lose all that money.”
“We’ve been through this a dozen times,” Mrs. Drysdale said wearily. “What’s done is done. We can’t straighten Electra’s tail. But how would it look to the judge if we didn’t at least try to make sure Luthor can’t harm another dog?”
“Luthor’s more important than any old judge!” Savannah said tearfully.
“Is he really?” he father asked harshly. “That judge has the power to decide if we lose our home; if we can afford food, or to see doctors when we’re sick; if you and your brother can go to college; if your mother and I can retire someday. We all love Luthor. I love Luthor. But he is just a dog.”
Savannah pressed her face into Luthor’s short coat. The big Doberman, sensing her anguish, began to whine softly.
“See how upset he is?” she sniffled. “He’s sorry. I don’t know what made him do such a thing.”
“Yes, you do,” Mrs. Drysdale said firmly. “Even you and all the love you’ve given him cannot overcome the guard dog training he had as a puppy. Someone made a vicious dog out of him, and that will always be a ticking time bomb insider Luthor. We can’t run the risk of it going off again.”
“He isn’t vicious,” she murmured brokenly. “He’s good.” But even she could not explain what had happened at the mall. She was convinced that the Doberman had meant no harm to Electra. When she looked into those big, beautiful liquid-brown eyes, she saw no anger, no malice. The question remained: What had set him off?
And then there’s the little matter of a 7.8 million-dollar lawsuit …
“I suppose you know,” she said in a strangled voice, “what happens to him if nobody adopts him.”
Her parents were silent.
Savannah gave in as she’d always known she’d have to. It would take the end of the world for her to turn her back on Luthor. But this was the end of the world. The Drysdales were facing ruin. If there was any way she could help to prevent the coming disaster, she had to grasp at it. Her shattered heart felt that Luthor would have understood.
Her father popped the locks. “Maybe you should stay in the car, sweetheart. I’ll take him in.”
Savannah opened the door and stepped to the sidewalk, drawing Luthor behind her. “I’ll do it, Dad,” she managed bravely. “He’s my responsibility. I brought him into our family, and I owe it to him not to leave his side till he’s out.”
The Doberman could tell something was awry, yet followed her to the door, loyal to the bitter end. Every step was a hammer blow to Savannah’s heart.
I’m using his devotion against him, gaming our friendship to trick him inside.
She had never felt lower in her life.
For a wild half-instant, she actually considered running away – not just from the pound, but from Mom and Dad too. She and Luthor would live as fugitives. Surely Electra’s owners would drop the lawsuit knowing that it had cost the Drysdales their daughter.
The insane impulse vanished as quickly as it had appeared. What would they eat? Garbage? Besides, a twelve-year-old girl with a giant Doberman would stand out like a sore thumb. The police would pick them up within hours.
She remembered the noise from when she’d first come to the Cedarville pound to adopt Luthor – the awful, discordant chorus of dogs in captivity, dogs in trouble. She introduced herself, trying not to look at the large wire-mesh kennel she knew was meant for Luthor. If she could have made the trade, she would gladly have crawled in there herself to spare her precious Doberman. This was all her fault. If she had been a better dog whisperer, maybe things would not have come to such a tragedy.
She assisted the Humane Society attendant in gentling him into the cage. He looked at her so trustingly that her eyes welled up with tears. Maybe that was a merciful thing. She was unable to see the moment that the gate shut and he was locked in there, lost to her forever.
She hated what had happened, but not nearly as much as she hated herself.
Inside the cage Luthor regarded her questioningly.
“His name is Luthor,” she quavered, “and please be nice to him because he’s the most wonderful friend anybody ever had in the whole world …” She went on, but by that time, she was crying so hard that the attendant was unable to understand her.
It was a miracle that she made it back to the car. Sobbing now, she hurled herself into the back seat and prepared to face life without Luthor.
Copyright 2011 by Gordon Korman, used by permission