Foreign Business Affairs

A fable by Bruny Hudson

“The more you love a memory, the stronger and stranger it is.”
Vladimir Nabokov

Part 1

My fur bristled and my ears sprang backward. I clutched the phone and squeezed it between my paws.

“What?” I barked to the dog at the other end of the line. “The cats ate the caviar?”

With my teeth bared, I glared at Wylie, my doggy brother and right paw, lounging on the easy chair across from the desk I was occupying while our dad was running an errand. Wylie shrugged his shoulders but didn’t stir a facial muscle.

“I want a written report, ASAP, and in detail,” I shouted into the phone. “This is outrageous. Whatever happened, somebody will pay for it. The caviar was supposed to be delivered early this morning. Go, get another order ready, but make sure a different cat delivers it to the courier.” I slammed the phone onto the console.

“Can you believe that,” I said to Wylie, my voice boiling with rage.

“I told you dealing with Russia and using Russian cats as go-betweens was asking for trouble,” Wylie said, leaning forward. “But you never believe me. You’re all gung ho about making as many kibbles as you can.”

“Well, the business is flourishing, and we’re faster delivering the food than any other company. It just so happens that Russia produces the best caviar.”

“You could have chosen any other fresh products, and we still would have beaten any competitors in speedy delivery. Maybe even something within the country, and we wouldn’t have to deal with foreign rules and regulations and strange behaviors.”

“It’s not only the speed that counts anymore, now that some companies are trying to get approval to use drones for fast delivery. It’s the uniqueness of the goods we deliver. Our customers crave the out-of-the-ordinary, the something they can impress their friends and business partners with.”

My fur started to flatten down and my ears pricked up. Wylie often had that effect on me, calming me down, if he didn’t first made me climb up the walls with his laid-back attitude.

“Every business deal has its ups and downs,” I said, “and so far everything has gone smoothly.  It’s just so unbelievable, the cats devouring the very product that sustains the company they’re working for.”

“Yeah, it’s almost déjà vu, you know, the problems you told me about that you had with the cat employees before I moved in with you.”

Knitting my brow, I said, “That’s true, but it was a strike they were instigating for an imprudent comment my former attorney, Ms. Foley Monster, had made. What these Russian cats have done almost borders on cannibalism.”

“Maybe they had a good reason for going berserk all of a sudden.”

I leaned back in my chair and thought about Wylie’s remark. What if there was more to it than the cats foolishly destroying their own livelihood?

“You have to go to Russia, Wylie, and talk to them, the cats, and find out what happened.”

“You’re kidding me, aren’t you?”

“I’m dead serious. We can’t solve this over the phone. Someone has to go there and assess the situation.”


Part 2

Wylie bared his teeth. “I’m not doing this Internet traveling, Hobo, we agreed on that. I do the stuff here at home, and you visit the places that need our attention. That was the deal.”

“I can’t afford to take off right now, and you’re so skilled in handling cats, no one can do it better than you, and all the cats fall for your charm, immediately. You’re the dog for this.”

“Why don’t you send one of our kitty siblings? It would be easy for Thomas or Tiger to talk to those cats and figure out the problem. Even Sabrina could do it. She has a knack for dealing with troublemakers, having been one herself not that long ago.”

“Sabrina is still wet behind the ears. She’s just an intern and can’t deal on her own with the business affairs. But anyway, it won’t work. Cats have just started as Internet travelers after the permission finally went through. As far as I know, there are only two who have set their paws into the Internet tunnels.”

Wylie yawned and leaned back in his chair. “Isn’t it about time then to break ours in? I think they know all about it already.”

“You talk as if there’s nothing to it, but you refuse to travel in the Internet. Sooner or later you have to do it, there’s no way around it.”

“Then let Thomas or Tiger be the guinea pig. I go next, after I hear from them how it is. I trust them more in telling me the truth about it than you.”

“This isn’t some kind of new endeavor anymore.” I sneered at Wylie. “And now isn’t the time to introduce the cats to it. And before I do it, I first have to clear it with the Internet management. That’s the last thing on my mind right now. It would be better anyway if a dog deals with the situation. There might be something wrong on the dog couriers’ end that has spilled over to the cats’ job.”

“What about letting your friend—what’s his name?—help out. You always give me an ear-full about how fast and enthusiastically he embraced that Internet traveling after you taught him about it.”

“You mean Ludwig?”

“Yeah, that’s him, the one you met at doggy camp, and who later brought back a cat from one of your adventures you got caught up in travelling through the Internet.”

“Yeah, good old Gato who rid Ludwig of his fear of cats. He’s now her devoted doggy brother. By the way, she was the first cat allowed inside the Internet. But back to the issue. No, Ludwig is not a business dog and wouldn’t know how to tackle the problem. Besides, I wouldn’t want to bother him right now anyway. He’s busy taking care of his mom. She fell and broke her leg, and he’s learning to assist her in every way he can, fetching stuff she needs or wants, snuggling up with her and keeping an eye on her well-being.”

Wylie cocked his head. “Now, that sounds more like a job I’d like to do, going into health care, not having to deal with any of your weird ideas that are bound to cause trouble. But why don’t you let one of the dog representatives in Russia look into it?”

“Oh, come on, you don’t believe we can trust …”

The phone rang, and I jumped. As I answered the call, I put it on speaker. The message from Russia echoing through the room was not encouraging.


Part 3

The dog at the other end of the phone was Olaf, my company’s general manager in Russia in charge of collecting the caviar orders and sending the cats out to pick up the delivery. He notified us about unfamiliar humans, clothed in black suits and wearing dark glasses, visiting the caviar processing area and inspecting the invoices.

“What about your place, any strange things happening there?” I asked Olaf.

“Early this morning, two courier dogs took off into the Internet, each with one order heading for your country. That was routine. But we still have one shipment sitting here. We’re waiting for one of the couriers to return from the Internet.”

“Hold on, you don’t have couriers as standbys? There should always be a dog available to leave right away as soon as a cat shows up with the merchandise. I thought I made that clear.”

“We worked it that way until this morning when we never received the latest shipment. Then, no other dog reported for duty. I thought it was just a coincidence, but I kept having this crawling feel in my fur. That’s why I called you.”

“OK, let’s not discuss it any further. All you need to know for now is that there’s another shipment coming. Process it as fast as you can, so there won’t be any inquiries from the buyer’s side. I’ll be in touch with you.”

I waited for Olaf to hang up and then disconnected my phone.

“Wylie, get up. I’ll show you what you’ve to do here.”

“Why? What are you up to?”

“I have to go to …”

“You’re not going to Russia, are you?”

“You heard Olaf, something is going on over there, and I don’t like it.”

”This manager of yours, he’s Russian, isn’t he?”

I nodded.

“Why in the world did you hire a Russian instead of sending one of our dogs to do the managing job over there?”

“A business friend of mine highly recommended this guy, and he looked smart and streetwise. I scrutinized his résumé, and I personally interviewed him when he came over here and checked out his past. He was clean. I even had Thomas vet him and consult with Tiger, and both of them agreed with my findings.”

“That was a good move, asking for both their help. Cats have kind of a seventh sense and can feel instantly if someone tries to double-cross them.”

“Yeah, and Thomas is also excellent in detecting the slightest flaws in whatever we deal with. I knew he was a gem the moment he moved in with us.”
“So, there was nothing fishy about that Russian guy?” Wylie grinned. “Except for having his paws in the caviar trade?”

“I liked what I saw and what we found out about him. But still, trusting 100 percent … trusting anybody from over there …”

“So why didn’t you hire a dog from here to work over there?”

“As you know, we needed someone who would be familiar with the Russian law. Nobody I could have found here would have known anything about it.”

“So, when are you leaving?”

“I’ll try to get Ludwig to meet me in the Internet as soon as possible. I’ve decided to send him to Russia after all.”

“Why do you have to meet him then? Why not just tell him over the phone?”

“It doesn’t work with Ludwig that way. He has trouble intercepting any phone calls at home, and it would take too long to explain our situation in Russia over the phone.”

Slowly, Wylie stretched and shook himself before stumbling over to me. As he put his nose on my shoulder, I emailed Ludwig asking if he could take off and see me for something important in the Internet tunnel. To make it easy for the both of us, I suggested we meet at the relay station located between both of our Internet doors.


Part 4

I kept an eye on my incoming email for Ludwig’s reply while I explained to Wylie how to do any updates at the computer and what to watch out for. Much faster than I had expected, Ludwig answered me. He was ready for a meeting right away.

I cut off my instructions to Wylie, and he gave me a blank stare.

“What?” I asked.

“You can’t leave me hanging like this. I have a lot of questions.”

“You can handle it, and I won’t be gone long. Just make sure Thomas and Tiger do their job. Don’t let them dawdle.”

“You’re always on their backs. If they just take a short snack break and you notice it, you bark at them to go back to work. But Sabrina can snooze all day, and you don’t say a word.”

“I told you, she’s still wet behind the ears. I’m trying to break her in gently. But I don’t have time to argue about this now. Ludwig might already be waiting for me.”

I pushed Wylie out of the way so I could reach the computer’s USB port and got ready to upload myself. I logged on to the Internet, punched my ID code into the address bar and jumped back down to the computer. I held my tag close to the USB port, called out to Wylie, “See you,” and was on my way.

As usual, a wind with the force of a hurricane made me close my eyes and battered my ears. Feeling like a beach ball tossed around and around, I lost all sensation of direction but landed smoothly only a minute or two later in the Internet tunnel in front of my door.

I couldn’t remember ever having experienced a hard landing on the one-of-a kind floor all the Internet tunnels had. Ludwig always went bonkers over its surface, firm and soft at the same time while providing the perfect traction for our paws. I hoped he had resisted his urge to run back and forth through the tunnels and I didn’t have to chase him down this time.

It was the reason why I suggested meeting him in the relay station, the one close to Ludwig’s and my doors. Even though more and more relay stations had sprung up lately, there weren’t enough by far to serve the whole Internet. The improvements to them, however, were enormous. The Internet traveler now could also use them to move around inside the Internet instead of having to walk through tunnel after tunnel to find the wanted exit door. And compared to a roller coaster ride through hell traveling through the Internet to the outside, an inside trip felt like a heavenly boat ride.

I trotted to the fork of the tunnel which led to the left to Ludwig’s door and to the right to the relay station. Looking each way, I didn’t see a sign of Ludwig, but I could have sworn there was a noise somewhere. I held my breath and listened.

All I heard was the normal sound inside the Internet, the sound of silence. I looked in both directions in front of me again and also behind me, squinting my eyes to pick up anybody in the distance, but nobody was there.

With my ears pricked up, I made my way to the relay station. The big red X on its door became visible the same moment as I heard a noise, this time for sure. It sounded like some kind of croaking, coming from straight ahead.

I slowed down to a snail’s pace and approached the relay station door. The closer I came the louder the noise became, and I finally recognized it as the barking of two dogs. It came from inside the relay station. I couldn’t tell if it was friendly or hostile, but one of the voices was Ludwig’s.

Why was Ludwig fussing with another dog inside the relay station? He usually didn’t talk to other travelers in the Internet tunnels, seldom even acknowledging them at all, and everybody using the relay station kept quiet and without speaking to each other.

I wished I could hear what was going on behind the closed door, but it was too well insulated. I started to put my ear against it, but quickly stepped backward remembering a good friend’s advice to always stay at a safe distance from any door in the Internet if you don’t want to enter it.

I had to open it, and I had to do it fast. Ludwig was in there, and he might be in danger. I took a jump at the door handle.


Part 5

The door to the relay station flew open, and a howl roared through the room. At the farthest corner, next to a computer stand, a huge black figure was doubling over.

Before I could take cover, the figure straightened up, and I saw who it was.

“There’s my dog.” Kojak, still rolling with laughter, came running toward me and gave me a bearhug. “How’s it going, Hobo?”

Completely thrown for a loss, I peeked around him looking for Ludwig. He was right behind Kojak.

“Look who I ran into,” Ludwig said with a big smile on his face.

“And look who I caught,” Kojak barked. “Our good friend Ludwig, fooling around in the Internet tunnels again, racing like a lunatic. But he can tell the most hilarious jokes.”

I wiggled out of Kojak’s legs. “So, you’re still patrolling the tunnels and giving travelers a hard time? I thought I heard you’d advanced to pursuing and harassing the bigger fish?”

Kojak laughed. “Nah, I was just kidding. Ludwig and I happened to be in here at the same time. But you’re right, I climbed the corporate ladder all the way to cyberspace security. I have nothing to do anymore with policing the Internet tunnels.”

“I remember the first time Ludwig and I bumped into you or better you into us,” I said. “Ludwig was pretty sure you were a fraud, and I could have kicked myself for believing you were a real Internet police dog.”

“Ha, ha.” Kojak nodded and then shook his head. “No, I was very real, too much, though. Luckily, Lorelei cured me from being a stickler for the law …”

“That’s exactly what she called you,” Ludwig said, snickering. “But she also said you were very ambitious and competitive.”

“Well, I’m still always trying to do my best, but Lorelei has shown me a more sensible path to success. By the way, I’d dragged that sweet little dog from being an Internet kiosk assistant with me on my way up the ladder, and we’re now both partners in the cyberspace security department.”

“I’m glad it worked out so well for both of you,” I said.

“Thanks.” Kojak turned to Ludwig. “See, someone is happy for me. But now that you told me you have a kitty sister you adore, I’m sure you forgive me for stealing Lorelei away from you.”

“Nah, you didn’t steal her at all. I don’t think Lorelei even knew that I had an instant crush on her when Hobo and I met her at the kiosk.”

“So, Hobo,” Kojak asked, “what are you up to? Ludwig tells me you asked him over here to discuss something important? Something on your adventure list?”

“Something on my business list,” I answered.

Ludwig furrowed his brow. “I don’t know if I can help you with it. I don’t have that business mentality of yours. But what is it about?”

“I need you to go to Russia to check up on my caviar deals over there. It’s really more an investigation gig than a business matter.”

“Then maybe, you should hire Kojak for the job. He’s the perfect fit.”

“Oh no.” Kojak shook his head vigorously. “You’re not getting me involved in something like that. In fact, I’ll turn around and close my ears while you two make the necessary arrangements.”

“You don’t need to,” I said. “I trust you, and you’re not a tattletale.”

“It’s not about trust or keeping secrets. But, I’m sure your dealings have to involve the Internet, and it might put me into a precarious situation if any of them lead to a security breach and I’m aware of it.”

While Kojak went back to the computer at the other side of the room, I filled Ludwig in about my caviar operation in Russia and the latest developments. Most of it was old news for him since I always bragged about it whenever we met.

“First, you have to meet with Olaf,” I said, “and then you need to get to the bottom of why the cats had gone berserk. Have them confess or clear things up.”

Now, that Ludwig felt at ease with cats, I was certain they’d cooperate with him if he was able to win them over. He was good at it with humans, it came naturally to him. It might even be an additional advantage regarding the men in black Olaf had mentioned.


Part 6

Ludwig and I bickered back and forth about his going to Russia to check out the warehouse. He finally agreed to do it.

“But I can’t leave right away,” he said. “I’ve to go back home and tell Gato what to do and how to take care of our mom. I hope my sister will be able to distract Mom enough so she won’t ask for me.”

“That’s fine, but listen carefully,” I said and rattled down letters and numbers. “This is the URL address for the warehouse in Russia. Memorize it and you can leave straight from your home instead of coming back here searching for it in the directory. There’s always the danger of mixing up the destination. I’ll go home, too, and let Olaf know right off that you’re on your way so he’ll be expecting you.”

Ludwig looked at me with his big brown eyes. “I don’t know about this. I wish we could go together. But, I’ll do it for you.”

I patted him on the head. “You’ll be OK. Just think before you do anything stupid.”

“Oh, that’s encouraging, but I’ll keep it in mind. If I hurry, I’ll be back soon, right?”

Ludwig didn’t wait for my answer, but his remark would haunt me in the hours to come. As he turned around and scurried over to Kojak, I followed him, and we all said our goodbyes.

While Ludwig got ready to upload himself from the computer to head home, Kojak whispered into my ear, “You know, Hobo, I don’t want to interfere with what you’re doing there in Russia, but let me give you a friendly piece of advice: Don’t trust those Russians, no matter who they are. Here, everyone is too gullible, they all believe everything they see and read. In Russia, it’s different. Everything is regulated or forbidden, and the punishments are severe. So, everyone over there is very sneaky to get around it. Be careful.”

“Yeah, my brother Wylie already warned me about them. But as I told him, I’ve taken extra precautions.” Noticing that Ludwig had taken off, I stepped in front of the computer and said, “Well, I’ll better be going, too.”

I logged on to the Internet, entered my URL in the address bar and less than a minute later exited the computer at home.

Nobody else was in the office. I jumped on the desk to make the call to Olaf but didn’t see the phone on the console or anywhere else. I rummage through all the papers and folders on the desk and found everything else but the phone. Where in the heck was it?

And why wasn’t Wylie here to do the work I’d delegated to him? I looked at the clock on the wall. It was 10 minutes past 9 a.m. So, I was only gone maybe an hour, and it should have taken Wylie longer to finish the assigned job.  

In the midst of losing my temper, I couldn’t shake off Kojak’s warnings about Russia. I started to ask myself if I’d made a big mistake sending Ludwig to that country. His impulsiveness wasn’t a good match for the mind-set of Russian nationals.

Another thought hit me. It was seven hours later in Russia, and they closed up the warehouse for the day at 5 or 6 o’clock in the evening. I had to get in contact with Olaf as soon as possible. I had to find the darn phone.

I stomped out of the office and into the hallway. I heard Dad talking in the living room, but nobody commented or answered him. Oh no. With my tail and ears dropped, I rushed around the corner. Dad was leaning back in his easy chair holding the phone to his ear and chattering away.

I planted myself in front of him and waited, staring into his face. He ignored me even after I gave out a few barks and put my front paws on his legs. Apparently, he was tied up in a lengthy conversation, and there was nothing I could do to cut it short, but I needed the phone.


Part 7

I paced back and forth in front of Dad’s chair. Instead of annoying Dad, it made me all hot and bothered. I stopped and took a deep breath, and my eyes hit Dad’s iPhone lying on top of the side table next to his chair. How could I grab it without Dad chasing me away? I let my eyes wander around the room, and they came to a rest on my kitty sister, Sabrina, snoozing on the couch.

Quickly, I hopped on top of her, sure she would wake up with a start, but she kept on snoring away. I had to shake her out of her dreams.

“Hey, Sabrina,” I barked into her ear,” get up, you have to help me.”

She blinked her eyes several times and gave out a big yawn. “Can’t it wait ‘til later, after my nap?”

“No, it can’t, and you’re already awake now. Jump on the table next to Dad’s chair and push the iPhone down to the floor. But make sure he doesn’t notice you.”

“You know, Hobo, I would do anything for you, but I do need my beauty sleep. Why don’t you jump up there yourself?”

“You’re much lighter on your paws. I would make such a racket that Dad would chase me off before I get to the phone.”

“I’ll do it later.” Sabrina closed her eyes and curled into a ball of fur.

Losing my patience, I nipped at her ear, the only part of her sticking out. Her head popped up, and she glared at me.

I glared back at her. “Are you going to help me? You have to get me that phone now. It’s a life and death situation.”

That hit a nerve. While Sabrina had been roaming the streets, she had reached the gate to the Rainbow Bridge, and Wylie and I had talked our parents into adopting her just in time for her to receive life-saving medical treatments.

Sabrina leaped to her paws. “I’m all yours. What do you want me to do?”

“Just push Dad’s iPhone from the little table, over there by his side, onto the floor.  But as I said, make sure he doesn’t notice what you’re doing.”

Without further delay, Sabrina bounced down from the sofa, cased out the recliner Dad was sitting in, and in one bold move, jumped on his lap. My mouth fell open. Oh my cat, she wasn’t thinking of pushing down the phone he was holding in his hand, was she?

Dad briefly looked at her and absentmindedly patted her back a couple of times. Afraid to watch what would happen next, I closed my eyes. When I opened them a second later, Sabrina was standing on top of the recliner above Dad’s head.

Like a feather, she floated down onto the side table, instantly finding her balance. She nosed a wad of papers out of the way, and then, as if waving a magic wand over the tabletop, her paw brushed the iPhone, and it slid onto the carpet.

Not wasting another second, I dived from the sofa, grabbed the phone with my teeth and hotfooted into the office. With my rear legs, I kicked the door just enough for it to touch its frame and scurried under the desk to make my call. I thought this would also be a good place to ditch the phone, making Dad believe by the time he found it that he had dropped it there, thus preventing him from becoming suspicious.

With my right paw on the phone, I deeply inhaled to concentrate on the phone number of the warehouse where Olaf would most likely be. It took me three tries to enter the string of numbers correctly.

No one answered. Using the redial over and over again, I kept on calling. Where the heck was he? … Yeah, that was it. While I was trying to find a way to get to the phone, Ludwig must have tied up the loose ends at home and already taken off for Russia. Now, Olaf was showing him around, explaining everything, and didn’t want to be interrupted by a phone call, but once he was done, he would pick up.

I continued pushing the redial button. Finally, I heard a click.

“Olaf here, who’s there?”

“It’s me again, Hobo. You got Ludwig up-to-date on everything?”


“I sent my friend Ludwig, you know the one I told you about a while ago, over to assist you. I assumed he made it over there by now.”

“No, not here yet.”

Thrown for a loop, I stalled. Getting my thoughts in order, I said, “Anyway, he should be there any minute now. Fill him in about any new details. He’ll talk to the cats and see what he can do.”

Olaf agreed, and I was ready to hang up. I lifted my paw to press the exit button on the phone. The pop of a gunshot coming from the other end of the line made me stop in midair. I shouted into the phone, “Olaf, Olaf, are you there? Olaf? Say something. Hello, hello.”

As my barking echoed through the room, the line went dead.   


Part 8

I stared at the phone in front of me, my body trembling. That had been a gunshot, no doubt about it. I’d heard enough shots on Ludwig’s and my last adventure to distinguish them from other kinds of bangs. 

Pulling myself together to keep my paw steady on the phone, I punched in the warehouse number. The call went right through, but I waited and waited for an answer. I hung up and redialed, and hung up and redialed, on and on, losing track of the total.

While my tapping the phone came to nothing, my earlier bellowing into it came to a head, and I regretted the blunder I had made.

The office door squeaked, and Sabrina, meowing, came rushing into the office. “I heard you yelling. What’s the matter? Where are you?”

“I’m under the desk. Did Mom hear my barking?”

“I don’t think so, but I heard it all right, and Wylie, too. We both heard it, loud and clear. I should’ve known, you’re hiding. Are you making a phone call down there? Why don’t you …?”

“Can’t you shut up for a moment? Yes, I’m trying to place a call. You’re making me nervous, and I don’t want Mom to come in here to find out what all the meowing is about.”

“She won’t. She knows I like to talk.”

“Why are you always yapping so much anyway?”

“It’s in my genes. Siamese enjoy talking.”

“So, go and talk in the other room. I need to concentrate and some privacy here.”

“OK, if you insist.” Mumbling something under her whiskers, Sabrina stomped away but didn’t go far.

Before I could focus on the phone again, she hollered, in defiance to my admonition that she kept it quiet, “I’m leaving, but you won’t get any privacy. Here comes Wylie.”

I gritted my teeth and listened for the door to squeak again. When I heard Wylie push it open a tad more to squeeze through, I whispered to him to come under the desk. “Did anyone follow you, Mom or Dad?”

“Not that I know of,” Wylie said, whispering also. “Sabrina came out of here, moaning and groaning, but no one else was moving around. Mom took off with the car after she came back from the walk with me, and Dad is still engrossed in his phone call.”

“That’s why I didn’t see you anywhere when I came back from meeting Ludwig.”

“So, what’s going on? What’s all this secrecy?”

“Well, we have a big problem on our paws.”

“Yeah, I know. That’s why you met with Ludwig. He can’t go to Russia?”

“No, he agreed to do it right away. There might be a much more serious problem now. What we’re up against could be a disaster.”

Wylie furrowed his brow. “I don’t know if I want to hear this.”

“There was a shooting in the warehouse in Russia and …”

“Oh no, what happened? Did some of the humans kill one another? I hope they didn’t hit any of the dogs and cats.”

”I don’t know anything. I just heard a gunshot while I was on the phone with Olaf, and then, the line went dead.”

“So, you don’t know if someone fired a gun. Are you sure it was a shot you heard? Maybe it was an electrical mishap, something like a transformer blowing up.”

“Trust me, it was a gunshot. But the worst thing is that Ludwig should have already been at the warehouse when I talked to Olaf, but Olaf hadn’t seen him, so Ludwig could have arrived just as the gun went off.”

“OMD, you don’t think he ran into the line of fire?”

I slipped out from under the desk. “I have to go over there and make sure he’s OK and see …”

“Are you out of your mind? Do you want to get shot?” Wylie nipped my tail to hold me down.

“I’ve sent Ludwig into harm’s way, and I have to get him out of it. Now, let go of my tail.”

Obeying, Wylie asked, “Why do you think he already left home? He could still be there. He might still be getting everything in order before taking off. Call his home and find out.”

“Are you even listening? Tell me, how do I reach him by phone?”

Wylie coughed. “Try this …” He coughed again and then cleared his throat. “Make the call, and when his mom or dad answers, spew out some thunderous barks to catch Ludwig’s attention if he’s still home. Otherwise, with any luck, Gato will get the message and contact you.”

“But what about Dad, hearing me barking so loud?”

“I wouldn’t worry about it. In case he comes in here to check things out, we’ll start barking at each other as if we’re having a fight, and he’ll just tell us to give it a rest.”


Part 9

Wylie’s suggestion sounded good and made a lot of sense. If Ludwig hadn’t left home yet, I didn’t have to worry about him and would just cancel his trip to Russia until I talked to Olaf again and found out something about the escalating situation at the warehouse.

I tapped Ludwig’s home phone number in Dad’s iPhone. It only rang twice, and a female voice answered. “Yes?”

With all my might, I barked and yowled into the receiver. It was so deafening that I heard my own echo, somehow distorted, but someone was breathing down my neck, and I realized Wylie had chimed into my clamor with his own piercing whine.

“What the hell?”

While Wylie and I continued singing our wild songs, I could barely make out the rest of words the woman was blaring into my ear from the other end of the line. “Don’t you people have better things to do than to annoy others? Get off my phone.”

When nothing but silence followed, Wylie and I fell silent, too. I listened for Dad or Sabrina again to stomp into the office, but everything remained quiet.

“This should have been loud and long enough for Ludwig or Gato to pick up on,” Wylie said.

“And now what?” I started to get antsy. Precious time was slipping away. “We just sit  around here and wait for their phone call? Have you thought about that?”

“Nah, we shouldn’t do that, but …”


“Let me finish my sentence. Go and check your email. If Gato heard us, she might have already sent you a message, even before Ludwig has a chance to get on the phone. You know, she’s good at that emailing stuff.”

Now, I started to get mad at myself. Why did Wylie have to tell me what I should have been doing without even thinking? Gato had become an expert in using email when she stayed in contact with Ludwig and me before Ludwig’s parents adopted her. We had briefly taught her how it worked, and she embraced it. Somehow, she had always found a way to sneak up on someone’s computer or iPhone in her native land and email us a short note, usually vague to camouflage it, or track down and read the one from us to her, written in the same way.

While we dogs, together with our cat friends, had an international language to converse and understand one another, we lacked the script to it. I always wished we had a way to write and read something which only we could make sense out of. As it was, we had to use the human script and mask it in some way to keep people in the dark about the real message. 

With the phone between my teeth, I wiggled around Wylie and jumped on the office chair to reach the computer keyboard. Quickly, I accessed Dad’s email. Lo and behold, the last incoming email had a funky subject line only Gato could come up with: Want more fish? Go fishing! 

I opened it, and my jaw dropped. Her message was concise and discreet: If you want to talk to the other one, he left for a certain place an hour ago.

With his front paws grabbing the edge of the desk, Wylie poked his nose at the computer screen. “What did the email …”

I interrupted him. “I have to leave. As soon as I’m gone, you delete Gato’s email.” In one fell swoop, I logged out of the email account, entered my Internet ID code and somersaulted down to the computer.

As I was aligning my dog tag with the USB port, I heard Wylie hollering, “What the hell are you doing. Don’t …” and then, I was out of his earshot.

Part 10

It was a turbulent ride, and while the swooshing noise of the whirlwind propelling me along usually blocked my sense of hearing, I could have sworn I heard gunshots on and off.  At the warehouse in Russia, I popped out of a computer like a rocket, even with a loud boom thrown in as an extra.

I slammed onto the hard concrete floor and skidded several feet. Another kaboom, now sounding like a bang, bang, bang, followed. I panicked and started to clamber to my paws to run to safety. What I had heard a minute ago had not been a boom sparked by my exiting the computer. It was a volley of gunshots.

Something grazed my ear, quickly like lightning, and I landed flat on my belly. Frantically, I shoved my paws back and forth to find traction. Before I could struggle to my feet to run, my mind cleared and common sense took over, and I stayed put.

For sharpshooters I would make the perfect target racing though the warehouse. Those thugs probably got a bigger kick out of blowing away a moving object, whatever it was, than a stationary one. 

My eyes darted around the room. Besides conveyor belts, all leading to a huge table, much, much longer than wide, covered with a bunch of electronic devices for sorting the packages of caviar for their destinations, there were several computer stations, scattered through the rest of the vast space.

I blinked my eyes several times, not believing what I was seeing. Underneath the open area of the computer stations, people huddled together, quavering with each gunshot. At the rate and speed of the fired bullets, those sitting ducks should have been all dead by now. Then again, my theory about the shooters might not have been that far-fetched. 

Where were the shooters and what were they aiming at? OMD, where were the courier dogs? And where the hell was Ludwig?

With a fleeting look, I swept the floor of the warehouse. No, no downed dogs. I swept the floor a second time. No, no shoes or boots on the feet of potential gunmen either.

This time, however, I spied a row of cardboard boxes, stacked close to the wall opposite the main door. There wasn’t enough room behind them for people to hide who would have to lie flat on their stomach in order to not stick out from behind the boxes. It was a perfect cover for me if I made it to it.

I crawled toward the table and underneath along it, heading for the row of cardboard boxes. While the gun fire was still blaring into my ears, I didn’t feel any more bullets whizzing by me, and, still in one piece, I reached the end of the table. The first box to conceal me was just a good jump away to my right.

One paw at a time, I straightened up. I peeked around me to make sure a shooter hadn’t sneaked up from wherever, and as everything looked clear, I shifted my body to the right.

Gauging the narrow space between the box and the wall, I took a deep breath, tightened my leg muscles and waited for one of the now sporadic gunshots. The moment I heard the kaboom, I took the jump. 

Everything happened so fast that the only thought zapping through my mind was that I’d jumped out of the frying pan into the fire. But it couldn’t have been a bullet that hit me. Bullets didn’t snarl, though they might howl, and while they might bite, they didn’t scratch without end. 

On instinct, I growled and bit back. What was all that fur, now stuck between my teeth? Something tried to pin me down, and I kicked and wiggled to break away, but then a heavy load squashed my body.

Unable to move and running out of breath, I closed my eyes, accepting but cursing my imminent fate. As I slowly drifted off into oblivion, my body felt light, free of any burden. I went with the flow.

Part 11

A bark hit my ears from far away. The closer it came, the more it sounded like gobbledygook. Then, something wet dabbed my nose, and I realized I could breathe without gasping for air.

To get away from the slobber around my face, I carefully moved my head, and it again turned easily. I gave my legs a tryout, and they were working again, too.

The barks now became familiar, and straining my ears, I made out the words.

“Hobo? … OMD … What are you doing here?”

Slowly, I opened my eyes, and I opened them wider and wider. Finally, I found my voice. “Olaf? Wow, I’m glad to see you. Is this the Russian way employees greet their boss?”

Olaf chuckled. “Barking out loud, no. If anything, it would be the other way around. Sorry about attacking you, Hobo. I thought you were a drone that they were releasing through one of the chutes, the way you came flying through the air, and I wanted to put it out of action before it exploded.”

“Drone? Chutes? What are you talking about?”

“They’re shooting through the chutes, you know the one where the packages of caviar come in onto the conveyor belt and the four outgoing ones that send the package onto the trucks going to the local customers.”

I squinted at Olaf. “But the chutes are too small for a human to crawl into.”

“It’s easy to take the chute off on the outside. So, they’re standing there and aiming the guns through the inside chutes and firing away.”

“Wait, that doesn’t make much sense, they won’t hit anybody that way.”

“I guess that’s their objective, just to frighten people and do a lot of damage. That’s why those people in here are still alive. Maybe you noticed them when you arrived.”

“Yeah, it struck me as odd to see them crouching under the open computer stations.”

“That’s where the bullets can’t reach them.”

“Who the hell is doing the shooting?”

Olaf pricked up his ears. “Listen … I think the shooting has stopped. I haven’t heard anything all the time while we were talking. Let’s get out of here and find a safer place.”

“What if they come charging in through the door just as we’re leaving, or wait outside for whoever comes out?”

“I doubt they’ll shoot at us dogs, they’re interested in the people employed here.”

“So, tell me, who are they?”

For a second time, Olaf dodged giving me an answer, and he only shook his head.

I stared at him. “You don’t have any idea? I was expecting to see the men in black suits you were mentioning earlier raiding the warehouse and doing the firing.”

“You’re right. Those suits have been here. They came charging in here, gave out two or three warning shots …”

“That must have been one of the shots I heard on the phone just before it went

“Probably. I dropped it when I ran to safety. Anyway, they shouted something about breaking up a planned riot and frisked all the employees for weapons. We have a very strict gun law here. They didn’t find any and left as quickly as they’d come. But then …”

Without finishing his sentence, Olaf climbed over me with his long legs, and stepping to the end of the row of boxes, he peeked in the direction of the door.

Before I could turn around to follow him, he bounced backward, almost squashing me again. I slithered forward to give us more room, but the shouts of a man, stifling Olaf’s heavy panting, stopped me short.

Not understanding a single word of the man’s tirade, I ducked my head and braced myself for another salvo of gunshots. It never came, not even one single shot.

Instead, after the man’s shouting had died out, there were a lot of feet shuffling and noises like chitchatting and happy laughter. I wiggled around to face Olaf.

He wasn’t panting any longer. In fact, his body was still as if it was lifeless. OMD, he didn’t have a heart attack, did he?

Olaf was no spring chicken anymore. All that excitement could have been too much for him, or he might have seen something peeking around the box that pushed him over the edge. For all I knew, I could have misinterpreted the good cheer, and it was the bad guys’ hullabaloo.                              

Part 12

I tapped Olaf on his rear end with my paw. Nothing. I tapped again and again, each time harder until I gave him a good kick. Olaf didn’t budge. I clambered on top of him and pulled myself along to his neck, and holding my muzzle close to his ear, I opened my mouth and gave out a bark.

The sudden shaking of his head made me slide from side to side, and growling, I dug my paws into his fur to stay on top of him.

“Psst, be quiet,” Olaf hissed. “I want to hear what those people are saying.”

The nails of my paws dug deeper. Unfortunately, Olaf didn’t seem to feel it, but it gave me some satisfaction because I was mad at him for having ignored me. At the same time, I was relieved that he was very much OK.

With my nerves calmed down, I whispered at him, “What’s going on?”

“Didn’t you hear the man’s announcement?”

“I heard him shouting all right, but it was all Greek, I mean Russian, to me.”

“Oh … I forgot you don’t speak Russian. Wait just a second, and I’ll fill you in.”

Quietly, I pushed myself inch by inch backward to slide off Olaf. Before I reached his butt, he leaped forward, and I tumbled down.

“Hey, wait,” I hollered as he disappeared in front of me.

I scrambled onto all fours and staggered past the end of the row of boxes. Olaf was already at the open door, and without looking back, he scurried through it.

Everybody else must have left in a hurry, too. I didn’t see, hear or smell any humans, and I headed for the door, looking around me. Bullet holes were all over the warehouse, in the walls and in the floor, but the computers seemed to be undamaged. At least I hoped so because the moment I found Ludwig, we’d need one of them to get back home. 

I sneaked a glance at the outside. Nobody was in the vicinity, but I could make out humans and even a couple of dogs at the fish house in the distance. Not sure if the shooters were still lying in ambush, I slunk through the door and along the building, almost touching it, to the nearest corner.

With my nose up in the air, I sniffed for humans. They were somewhere at the other end, but their scent was drifting away. In front of me, however, I got a good whiff of a dog, and a familiar one. Without giving him time to detect me, I leaped around the corner.

Caught by surprise, Olaf lurched forward and lost his footing, and I grabbed him by his rear leg. 

Holding on to it with a firm pressure of my teeth for a few seconds and then letting go, I barked, “What are you doing? Running away from me? I don’t have time for these games. I have to know what happened here, and I have to find Ludwig.”

“I didn’t feel comfortable inside, all closed up,” Olaf said, turning around. “Sit down, I’ll tell you.”

I nodded. “But you better don’t take off on me again.”

Olaf gave his leg baring my tooth marks a good lick and sat down across from me. “The man you heard shouting coming into the warehouse was the overseer of the caviar processing facility. He told everybody that the men in black suits had come back, caught the shooters and hauled them off and that everything was clear again.”

I waited for more details, especially about the shooters, but Olaf remained silent. My fur bristled. This was turning into a nightmare. Instead of pulling Ludwig out of harm’s way, I felt as if I’d sunk deeper and deeper into the quagmire myself.

I poked my nose into Olaf’s face. “Listen, I know you’re not telling me everything. I thought all the time you were holding something back. Now, spit it out, who were those last shooters?”

Olaf turned his head right and left and then hanging it, he said, almost whispering, “They were a mob of four or five angry local customers who didn’t receive their orders of caviar.”

I cocked my head. “So, they just went on a shooting spree? Why didn’t they complain to the people in charge here?”

“They did.” Olaf looked up at me and back down again. “I’d heard their complaints and threats for some time now and saw the invoices. The packages of caviar in question were all the ones the cats intercepted and gave to the courier dogs to be sent to the customers in your country.”

Part 13

I glared at Olaf with my mouth open. A blatant oversight in my caviar delivery operation had caused an unforeseen domino effect. Having the Russian government on my back and the Russian security forces breathing down my neck was the last thing I needed, and from the beginning, I had taken extra precaution to avoid it.

Swallowing hard, I finally yelled at Olaf, “And you didn’t bother to tell me about it then? Why in hell do you think I hired you? Did you even try to remedy the situation?”

“I didn’t think it was a big deal. Those customers would have paid for the caviar on delivery, so they didn’t lose anything. Their only loss was the enjoyment of a luxury.”

“That’s not the point.” I was still yelling. “We’d arranged it so the cats would only intercept the original orders of caviar for the local customers and leave any replacements alone. Did you make sure about that?”

“I thought I did. But maybe the caviar company stopped refunding the lost orders.”

“You just don’t get it,” I screamed, having lost my patience. “It’s not about screwing the seller or the buyer, it’s all about the black market, about cutting into its profit. Half of the caviar going through all these facilities has to do with the black market, and a bunch of the people in charge here play a role in it, all under the cover of a legal business. Did I make myself clear?”

“All right, all right. I had no idea it would escalate, and not this way.”

“But the suits were hanging around here for a while. Why didn’t you …”

“No, no. Today was the first time, just as I told you on the phone. They showed up here a few hours before they raided the warehouse.”

I knitted my brow. “I wonder if someone bullshitted them and gave them the wrong info.”

“Yeah, that was also my thought.” Olaf was looking straight at me. “Those security guards were mostly looking for illegal weapons and less prepared to prevent a riot, and they were barking up the wrong tree. I could have told them that all the employees here were clean.”

“How come?”

“One of the courier dogs is a retired sniffer dog. He would have told me if he detected a gun or ammunition around here at any time.”

My ears perked up. Pushing my outrage at Olaf aside, I switched gears.

“Whoa. Do you think that dog could sniff out Ludwig? There has to be a way to find him.”

Olaf squinted before he answered. “I doubt it. His training was very specialized. Besides, he would need something with Ludwig’s smell on it if he could do it.”

“I might still have some of his scent on me. I met with him only a couple of hours ago. But I think you’re right. It would be out of his expertise to find someone who vanished into thin air. What about the employees in the warehouse? You said you were listening to them when they talked with the overseer, what did they say?”

Olaf’s lips twitched. After moving his butt from side to side, he asked, “You mean what they said about the …?”

“BOL, did any of them mention a dog they’d never seen before?” Despite my biting off his head, Olaf’s jaw relaxed, and he gave me a swift answer.

“The overseer was merely telling them that he and his crew and the people from the packing house were watching the drama unfolding while they were ready to scoot the moment the shooters would come their way.”

“So, they might have seen an unfamiliar dog come running out of the warehouse.” Then as an afterthought, I said more to myself than to Olaf, “That doesn’t help me much. There’s no way I could make myself understood by humans through barking at them if they’d seen Ludwig.”

Part 14

The coughing of a dog, coming from the corner where I’d ambushed Olaf, cut into my train of thought.  A second later, a small dog, about half my size, hopped around it.

“Excuse me,” the dog said, the voice clipped but polite. “I didn’t mean to interrupt. I couldn’t help eavesdropping when I heard you mentioned a strange dog who might have appeared here.”

I jumped in front of her and bared my teeth. “You’ve seen him?”

The dog shied back. “Don’t bite, I didn’t do anything.”

“Sorry,” I said, “I didn’t mean to startle you, but I’m desperate to find my friend. He looks similar to me but is a little bit bigger. Have you seen him?”

“No, I haven’t seen anybody, but my boyfriend, who’s a courier dog here, told me he saw a dog today who was wearing a collar that would fit me to a T but had no idea where he could find it for me.”

I almost bared my teeth again. What was she talking about? I was interested in Ludwig, not in collars. Then it hit me. “Did he say what kind of collar?”

“Sure, one all we girls dream of having, a golden one.”

“That’s him, that’s my friend Ludwig. He’s the only dog I’ve seen so far wearing a golden collar. Where’s your boyfriend? I have to talk to him.”

“We’ve parted a little while ago. I don’t know where he went.”

“Do you think he went to do a delivery run?”

Olaf poked his nose between the dog and me. “They’ve already shut down the packing house for today. So there won’t be any more deliveries until tomorrow.”

Craning my neck around Olaf’s muzzle, I asked the girl, “Did your boyfriend tell you anything else about the strange dog, where he saw him, what he was doing, where he headed for?”

“No, the big news was his collar, with us dogs here having all the same drab brown ones. I just noticed, yours looks pretty nice, too. I bet you didn’t get it here in Russia.”

“Thanks,” I said. “It’s made in China … Is there any way you can get hold of your boyfriend?”

“Let me see. Sometimes, after he’s done with the deliveries, he waits at my home to meet me again when I return from our earlier date at the fish house.”

Olaf put his muzzle between us again. “Where does your boyfriend find time for your rendezvous? He should be working. And I assume you’re not one of the courier dogs?”

The little dog glowered at Olaf. “For your information, I don’t work here. I just slip out from home whenever I can to meet my boyfriend and only during his breaks.”

“Well, I’d better inspect his records.” Olaf took a step backward and gave the little girl the once-over.

I shook my head at him and asked the girl, “Where do you live?”

“It’s not far away. I tell you what. I’ll go home now, it’s almost time anyway, and if my boyfriend is there, I’ll drag him back to the fish house. Check in about half an hour or so if we’re there. Otherwise, you’ll have to wait ‘til in the morning to talk to him.”

“That sounds great. Thanks a lot. I hope to see you both shortly.”

“I’ll do what I can,” the little dog replied, and giving Olaf the evil eye, she spun on her paw and took off.

“OK, Olaf,” I said, “While I’m here, take me to the cats. I’d like to have a word with them.”

“I don’t know if they’re around right now. With all that’s going on, they might have decided to leave. It’ll be just a waste of time.”

“Where would they normally hang out?”

“At the fish house.”

“So, take me to it, and we’ll see. We have to wait anyway and check if the dog finds her boyfriend. We might as well make the most out of it.” 

Olaf led the way, and I trotted alongside him. We both were quiet. My mind was buzzing with riddles of finding Ludwig, of sorting out Olaf’s remarks about my caviar business and of why he had suddenly become tight-lipped. No answer or solution popped up.

As soon as we came within eyeshot of the fish house, I saw cats scurrying behind the building and the adjacent bushes. I knew they were watching us from what they thought was a safe distance, underestimating the instinct and speed of us dogs. I would have liked to teach them a lesson, but right now, I needed their cooperation.

“Go ahead and call them,” I said to Olaf as we approached the building.


“The cats, of course. Don’t tell me you didn’t see them.”

Stopping, Olaf asked, his voice shrill, “Where are they?”

I stared at him. Something was very much wrong.

Part 15

Olaf’s attitude was stumping me more and more. Only a little while ago, he had tried to hold me back from conferring with my cat employees, and now, he was acting as if he wanted them to take off and disappear.              

Afraid the cats might do just that, I called them to step forward, trying to sound gentle, yet firm. I was hoping some of them were old-timers and would recognize my voice from the time I had met them when I had set up my caviar business.

I lucked out. Two cats came slinking from under a bush, their eyes glued to me. Slowly, I moved toward them, all the while soothing them. They kept on coming closer, and we met halfway. 

“You are the boss, aren’t you?” the bigger one of the two said. “I remember you. The first time I saw you, I was thinking what a small and plain dog you were and already the owner of a business. It gave me an incentive to work hard because I’m almost your size and also lacking glitz and glamour, so I’m determined to make something out of myself too.”

I looked the cat up and down. He was a huge tomcat with short black and white fur. Undecided whether he had just insulted me or given me a compliment, I gave him the benefit of the doubt. I gracefully thanked him and asked if he could introduce me to his co-workers.

“Sure,” he said, “if they’re still here, and there will only be a few.”

“See,” Olaf barked at me. “I’ve told you they won’t be around. Let’s wait ‘til tomorrow to catch up with them.”

Before I could reply, the big cat, ignoring Olaf’s comment, turned to the other cat. “Boris, go tell the others to come over here and meet the dog who puts their food on the table.”

While Boris took off, I nodded at the big cat. “Well, you couldn’t have said it any better. That’s just what I want to talk about with you all. Maybe you can shed light on why some of the cats ate the caviar they were supposed to hand over to the courier dogs at the warehouse.”

“I heard about it,” the big cat said, “but I wasn’t there when it happened. You’ll have to ask one of the perpetrators.”

I cocked my head. “You know who did it?”

The big cat frowned. “I’m not a rat. Just ask the cats if one of them took part in it.”

“Oh, come on, do you really think they’re going to tell me they’re guilty?”

Olaf butted in again. “They won’t …”

“If they’d done it, it must have been for a good reason and they’ll tell you,” the big cat said, looking me straight in the face.

It was the second time that he had snubbed Olaf who now had his gaze fixed on the flock of cats striding in a single file from the farthest corner of the fish house toward us. The closer they came, the more Olaf’s ears flattened.

Boris came leaping ahead of the others. “I scrounged up more than I thought I would. Most of the cats who worked today were still here, just scattered around.”

“Wow, that’s great.” I patted Boris on the shoulder while smirking at Olaf. 

“I wouldn’t give their statements too much weight,” Olaf said as his fur began to bristle. “They’ll just come up with some phony excuses.”

I glanced at the big cat expecting him to tell Olaf off. Instead, he kept his mouth shut but exchanged a look with Boris that said it all.

What the heck was wrong with Olaf? His secrecy and evasiveness to everything I was querying had set alarm bells ringing in the back of my mind. Was it all part of some underpaw, if not sinister, scheme of his?

Despite the bad luck of Ludwig’s disappearing and the shootings, I thanked my lucky stars that I would have a chance to talk to the cats myself. I should have come over here right in the beginning to find out what’s going on without delegating it to Ludwig. It would have made things less complicated.

When everybody had arrived and the big cat had made the introduction, I suggested we all sit in a circle to have an easy question and answer session. I finagled it to sit opposite to Olaf so that I could interfere if he tried to intimidate the cats by baring his teeth.

Part 16

The first cat brave enough to talk to me about what had happened was Nikita. She said she and most of her fellow cats had become suspicious and leery when they saw those humans in the black outfits appearing around the fish house and the processing facility.

Another cat, named Katya, came forward. “They looked bizarre, almost freakish. You know, all the other humans here wear comfy, if not tattered, clothes. We’ve never seen anybody here in suits and ties and raven shoes.”

Embolden by their two co-workers’ readiness to talk, more and more cats voiced their uneasiness, even fear, about the uncommon visitors.

“Yeah,” Nikita said, “the more often they showed up, the more guarded we all became. That’s why …”

“Hold on.” I interrupted her even before I spotted Olaf’s blazing eyes. “Those men in black snooped around here more than once?”

This time, Boris took over. “That’s right. It was about two or three days ago when they started to hang around here. They never stayed that long, but they were all over the place, the fish house, the processing facility, the packing house and the warehouse.”

Eager to learn what else Nikita wanted to say, I passed calling Olaf out on his lie. Instead, I tickled Nikita with accolades to keep her gaze on me and away from Olaf’s now clenching jaw, at the same time prodding her to tell everything that had happened. 

Obviously charmed by my flattery, as gawky as my attempts at it were and something I was still learning from Ludwig, Nikita started to spill the beans without naming anybody. “There were three of us, heading with our bags of caviar toward the warehouse. Suddenly, those strangers in black started to chase us. We got away, but one of us dropped the bag and the contents spilled all over the place. That’s when we took matters into our own paws.”

A cat sitting next to Olaf stood up. “Nikita is right. I was the one who dropped the bag. I know it shouldn’t have happened, but that one guy almost caught me by the tail, and I speeded up and escaped under a fence, but then, I stumbled over a rock, and the caviar can hit the edge of it and broke open. I guess I’m in big trouble, aren’t I?”

“Don’t worry about it right now,” I said, “just tell me what you did then.”

“Excuse me,” Katya said, “I was the third one of the three. When Nikita and I saw the mess Igor had made, we came back and helped him lick up all the caviar so there was no evidence of it.”

“Yeah,” Nikita said, “if those men wanted proof of some shabby dealings, all they would have found was an empty can which would have meant nothing.”

I frowned and glanced at Olaf. He flicked his tongue, and I nodded at him to speak up, but he kept mum. Apparently, what the cats were telling me was true, and I could not pin the blame on them. The only one to blame was Olaf for withholding from me that his government had been prying until he had no choice but to give me the lowdown.

“You were quite on the ball,” I finally said to the three cats who had come forward. “I would say you did the right thing under the circumstances.”

Igor, sitting back down, leaving a big gap between him and Olaf, said, “We thought so, too, but a courier dog saw us munching away on the caviar and reported it to Olaf here, and he bawled us out big time.”

I asked if anybody else wanted to add something, but they all shook their heads, including Olaf.

“One last thing before I let you all go,” I said, keeping my eyes on everybody. “Did anyone of you notice an unfamiliar dog with a shiny golden collar around his neck showing up here?”

The cats looked at each other and again shook their heads. I rose, thanked them for their honesty and cooperation regarding the caviar fiasco and dismissed them.

Then, I bared my teeth, ready to lash out at Olaf, his face frozen into a glowering mask. Before I could fling my first insult at him, the voice of the little dog who wanted to fetch her boyfriend echoed from one of the bushes behind Olaf. 

“Is it me or do you always show your teeth at others?” The little dog jumped in front of me.

I relaxed my jaw and gave her a quick grin. “Great you made it back.” I frowned again. “Where’s your boyfriend?”

“He … eh … was kind of … eh … held up.” She looked at Olaf out of the corner of her eye. “I’ll try to pass on what he told me to tell you about the dog he saw the best I can.”

Part 17

Olaf, still glowering at me, cleared his throat. “If you don’t need me right now, I have some unfinished work to do at the office. I’ll see you later.” Without waiting for my reply, he turned around and trotted toward the packing house.

I shrugged my shoulders at the little dog. “Let’s hear what your boyfriend told you to say.”

Instead of conveying the message, she shouted, “Hey, Sergi, he’s gone, you can come out.”

There was a lot of rustling of leaves, followed by a loud yelp. From the commotion and the forceful bark I expected to see a huge dog plowing through the bushes and wondered why he would hide from Olaf. What came crawling out of the bushes was another small dog.

“Ouch, these darn twigs, sharp as needles.” He twisted his neck to lick his shoulder, and then staring at my surprised face, he said, “Hey. My name is Sergio, or Sergi like Elena here, my girlfriend, likes to call me.” 

“I hoped we wouldn’t run into Olaf,” Elena said. “Sergi tried to stay away from him after I told him how Olaf came down on him.”

“Not that I’m afraid of him.” Sergi made himself stand taller. “I’m strong, very strong, just look at my muscles, perfect for my job. But I hate confrontations.”

“I didn’t think of that,” I said, and after introducing myself, I added, “I should have sent Olaf away before you came, but I mistakenly assumed he would have liked to know if you had seen Ludwig. Did you?”

“Elena told me Ludwig is the dog with that fancy golden collar around his neck?”

“You’ve seen him then? Where? Tell me.”

“I’ve only seen him for a second, but that collar was so shiny and so out of place here that I couldn’t have missed him.”

“But where, where did you see him?”

“In the warehouse, at one of the computers. I was leaving on a delivery run. I’d just punched in the URL address and was busy aligning my tag with the USB port when that golden-collared dog came popping out of the computer next to me. I even jerked my neck aside to get a better look at that collar of his, but my tag had already made the connection, and I was on my way to the Internet.”

My head started to spin. Almost under my breath, I asked, “Was there any shooting going on when you took off?”

“No, but I heard a funny noise, just as the wind sucked me in, something very much out of the ordinary. Later, I found out they were shooting around the warehouse after I’ve left, so that noise could have been a gunshot.”

A guttural moan escaped my mouth. “I think it was. I heard those unusual noises, too, when I was on the way over here, and it also would match the time I was afraid Ludwig must have arrived at the warehouse. Now, when you came back, did any of the other courier dogs mention a dog with a golden collar?”

“I didn’t talk to anybody right away when I returned. There was nobody around. Later, I mingled with some others at the fish house here, but they only talked about the shootings, nothing else.”

“But, Sergi,” Elena called out, “you’ve told me you asked a couple of your co-workers about that dog because you wanted to get a collar like he had for me.”

Sergi nodded. “I did, but as I said, only the shootings had caught their attention.”

I thought deeply and long about what Sergi was telling me. My worst fears had come true. Ludwig had arrived at the warehouse during the shootings, but apparently, nobody got hit, at least, no dead bodies had been lying around.

There was still the possibility that Ludwig, gunned down and bleeding, had dragged himself outside and was now withering away in some shrubbery, but I recalled not seeing any blood on the bullet-riddled floor of the warehouse or on the concrete slabs in front of it. 

I knew Ludwig did not hide under the computer stations, and Olaf had occupied the only hiding place. If Ludwig had tried to run the gantlet of bullets through the warehouse and out of the door, Olaf should have seen him … or maybe not. He didn’t mention anything, but he could have kept silent to mislead me.

Nevertheless, if Ludwig had made it unharmed out of the warehouse, one of the dogs or cats should have remembered seeing him. As Sergi had said, it was not easy to miss a collar like Ludwig’s, and it would have also been true amid distractions. 

The only scenario left was that Ludwig, at the first sound of the shooting, had somehow managed to reconnect immediately with the USB port again. If so, he should be back home … or he could also have had just enough time to punch in an Internet stopover for whatever reason, which would make it almost impossible to hunt him down. But there was a way to check what he did.                                  

Part 18

I leaped in front of Sergi and nosed him. “Let’s go to the warehouse. You have to show me the computer from which Ludwig arrived.”

“OMD, I don’t know.” Sergi stared at me with big eyes. “They look all the same to me. I always just pick one, the nearest that’s unoccupied. I don’t have any recollection which one that was. So, I wouldn’t know from which one Ludwig exited.”

I stared back at him. “Don’t tell me that. We have to find it, and you are going to do it. Once we are in the warehouse, you’ll be able to retrace your steps. Come on, we’ll have to hurry.”

It had started to get dark, and gray clouds were rolling in. Having lost any sense of time, I couldn’t tell if it was near dusk or if it was going to rain. My stomach told me it was far beyond lunchtime and approaching dinnertime.

With Elena and Sergi at my side, I set a fast pace toward the warehouse. In case a storm was brewing, I didn’t want to run the risk of being outside. Not that getting drenched by a downpour would bother me, but as a Florida dog, I automatically assumed thunder and lightning would accompany any rainstorm, and they scared me to death.

The warehouse looked abandoned, but something made my skin crawl. I stopped several feet away from the door and listened, but the only noise I picked up was the panting of Elena and Sergi who had given their short legs a workout to keep up with me.

Just as I convinced myself that my uneasy feeling came from dreading to find the door in front of me locked, Elena said, “Look over there, isn’t there someone slinking around the corner? And I thought we were the only ones here.”

My eyes darted to the far end of the building, but I missed whatever Elena had seen. “Any idea who it could have been?”

“I only saw a shadow, but it was quite big.”

“Probably a courier dog, coming back late,” Sergi said. “He might have recognized the boss here and didn’t want to fess up that he had been hanging out in the Internet.”

“At least, I hope he left the door unlocked,” I said, keeping one eye on the warehouse corner where Elena had spotted the shadow. 

Sergi nodded. “Probably.” He jumped against the door, and it flew open. “I thought so, it often happens with these dawdlers. They play around in the Internet, and when they finally make it back, they rush out of here, forgetting to lock up.”

Even though hearing about the tardiness and sloppiness of my employees felt like another punch in the gut, I was more than glad that somebody had goofed up and we were able to enter the warehouse.

The lights were still on as well. Elena gave the door a kick, and it fell shut with a bang.

Before I could order Sergi to think back from which computer he left on his last caviar run, he barked out, “I got it,” and made a beeline for a computer station not far from the entrance. “It’s this one, I left from this one.”

With one jump, I was at his side “Are you sure?”

“Yes, and the other dog came out from the one right next to it. See how close they are together?”

“I told you,” I said, “if you relive the scene, you would remember it.”

“No, it wasn’t that. It was the clank of the door closing when Elena gave it a push that revived my memory. Earlier, when I had come in here looking for a computer, someone suddenly closed the door so loud that I vaulted forward, right in front of these two computer stations. Of course, I picked the first one to get out of here.”

While Sergi had been talking, I’d already connected to the Internet on the computer Ludwig presumably had used. I went to the History for the last called-up sites, hoping I would stumble across an URL Ludwig might have punched in.

Part 19

I checked the browser history, beginning at the most recent address. It was a jumble of letters, ending in: .in. What? India? No, Ludwig couldn’t have gone to India. What in the world would he want to do there?

But .in was the Internet country code for India. I looked at the previous URL. It was a place somewhere in the United States, and the one prior to that was a local address, probably entered by a warehouse employee for record keeping.

I quickly copied the India URL and emailed it home with a short encoded note for Wylie, hoping he would intercept and save it for me before Dad deleted it.

Then, I turned to Sergi. “Are you sure this is the computer you saw the dog coming out of?”

“Hundred percent. Look at all the other computers. There’s no way I would have seen someone exiting from one of them while I was in the process of connecting with the USB port from this computer here.”

I let my eyes wander around the room. “Yeah, you’re right. And you’re absolutely certain you left from this computer?”

Elena nudged me. “If you have doubts, check the last URL on the computer Sergi used. No one else would have used the computer with the shooting in full blast, and Olaf said that everything closed down afterward.”

“Do you remember the address of your last delivery run?” I asked Sergi.

“Oh dog, do I remember all of them. Those people in the fancy outfits, in the kitchens, big as a whole apartment here in Russia, with sparkling pots, pans, appliances, you name it. You wouldn’t believe the last address, there were even professional cooks and waiters, all dressed up in white jackets, aprons, tall round hats, or in shiny black vests and white shirts. And the smell! Heavenly, like …”

“Hey, Sergi, slow down.” Elena gave him a shove while she eyed my sharp teeth. “Your boss isn’t interested in the high life of his rich American customers—I am the one who wants to know all the details about it. He wants to know what address you punched into the computer for your last delivery run.”

“Oh …” Sergi, unfazed by my teeth gnashing, smiled. “Of course, I always keep the last one in my mind,” and he recited a string of letters and numbers.

Still livid by his endless prattle about people’s kitchens, wasting my time, I had to use all my concentration to keep the URL in my mind for just the few minutes it took to check it on the other computer. It always mystified me how some of my fellow dogs, Ludwig included, could have a memory like an elephant.

Sergi had pointed out the right computer. Its Internet History matched the URL he had told me, and the timestamp matched more or less the moment the shooting had started.

“If you two want to leave, go ahead,” I said. “I can handle it from here. Thank you so much. You both have been a great help.”

“Any time,” Sergi answered. “We hope you’ll find your friend.”

“I have a chance now,” I said. “Without your help, I would be at a dead end.”

The moment Sergi and Elena had closed the door behind them, my skin started to crawl again. I thought of locking the door but hated to waste the extra minutes. Instead, I checked again the History of the computer next to the one from which Sergi had taken off.

The timestamp of the India URL showed that whoever had punched it in did it several minutes after Sergi’s departure. It all fit perfectly: Ludwig had arrived when Sergi took off, heard the gunshots, turned around and left again from the same computer. He must have been delayed a minute or two, perhaps too stunned to react quicker or stumbling to get back on his paws. Otherwise, he would have activated the return feature on the USB port, which would have sent him automatically to where he had come from, his home. There was no URL of it in the History records.

I scratched my head. Wow, India … I saw only more and more trouble brewing for my business here in Russia and knew there wasn’t any future in it. But India? Wasn’t that the country famous for spices humans love, and expensive spices for that matter?

But that couldn’t have been the reason why Ludwig went there. Like he always said, he was no business dog. However, the prospect of importing valuable spices sounded very intriguing to me.

Whatever I might come up with as to why Ludwig left for India wouldn’t help me. I had to get over there myself to find him, but I couldn’t do it alone. I first needed to go home and convince Wylie to come with me, and I had to do it now.

A cold breeze hit my fur as I typed my URL and ID code into the computer’s address bar. I threw a glance at the door and noticed it a crack open but didn’t see anybody. Quickly, I stooped toward the USB port and held my neck close enough to it for my dog tag to make contact.

Nothing happened. I waited a few seconds longer. Still nothing. I twisted my neck, and the tag clinked against the USB port, but there was no reaction. My tag was completely unresponsive. 

Part 20

The computer was running. So, it was not a computer failure that my dog tag didn’t connect, but maybe something was wrong with the USB port. I searched for another port, but there was none.

I wiped the address bar clean and slid over to the computer Sergi had used for his delivery run. Again, I entered my URL and ID code.

Stretching my neck as close as I could to the USB port, I heard the click of my tag hitting it, and again, nothing happened. There was no connection at all, no spark hitting the fur around my collar, no humming of current. My tag acted as if it was a useless piece of cheap metal.

I stepped back and scrutinized the computer. Like the other one, it was an outdated model with only one USB port, but it was in good condition, and it didn’t show any bullet holes or scratches from a bullet having grazed it during the shooting.

Brushing off the suspicion that something could be wrong with my tag, I gave it another try. I threw my head up and down and from side to side, bending my neck against the USB port so that my tag hit it, over and over again. It made me dizzy, and I took a break.

A waft of hot, clammy air, brushing past the crisp, cool draft from the outside, drifted across my back. A second later, it turned into words. 

“Having problems?” The voice was toneless, yet unctuous. It threw me off for a second, but before my legs buckled, I slowly turned around. 

“In fact, I do,” I said, “and it’s you, Olaf. Why do you sneak up on me like this?”

“I was interested in what you were doing. Did you want to leave without saying goodbye to me?”

His voice and his blazing eyes I’d seen earlier made my blood run cold. I had to get away, without arguing with him. 

“Look, Olaf,” I said, “you know I have to find Ludwig, the faster the better. I’m just trying to find a USB port that works.”

I slipped by him and went to another computer several feet away.

“Don’t bother.” Olaf had followed on my heels. “It won’t work either.”

I spun around. “How do you …” My jaw went slack. “You tampered with the computers? Why?”

“No, no, I didn’t do anything to the computers. But … you won’t be going anywhere.”

Olaf smirked, the corners of his mouth twitching. Instead of cowing me with another one of his mind games, he tipped me off, and the truth hit me like a sledgehammer.

How could he do something like that to me? I had trusted him until he cast doubt on his integrity. And how did he do it? He couldn’t have fooled around with my tag without me having noticed it. He must have known a hacker who attacked my ID code. 

This time, my eyes were blazing as I barked, “Why in the hell do you want to stop me from leaving? What’s in it for you?”

“You cannot leave the country, it’s as simple as that.”

“What? Am I under some kind of arrest? Are you an informer for the Russian government or its security forces?”

“No, no, it’s nothing like that. I want you to continue your business the way it is. But before I go any further, I have a question for you. What do you plan to do here after you locate your friend?”                            

Part 21

I sat down and shook my head. This all had to be a bad dream, stuck in Russia with a lunatic pulling my strings. Or maybe I was hallucinating from lack of food.

To test my state of mind, I stretched out my rear leg, clutched the paw with my mouth and dug my teeth into the pads, and I choked back a yelp. Yes, I was awake all right, and sober, too, and now, I was on the warpath.

“What the hell does your stupid question have to do with your holding me prisoner in this place?” I jumped up, spitting into Olaf’s face.

Olaf licked up my dribble and smirked again. “Just answer my question.”

“If you want me to say I’ll come back, straighten out everything and run the business as usual, you’re out of your mind. Despite all the precautions I took, your government was still able to get involved, and it’s too close for comfort for me to stay in business.”

“Aha, just what I thought.” Olaf’s voice took on a higher pitch. “That’s why I took my own precautions and didn’t tell you about our government’s involvement. I knew you would want to bail out the moment you hear that government security is snooping around this place. But I couldn’t prevent your finding out about the missing orders of caviar, so I blamed it on the cats. I was sure I could keep your friend you sent over here kind of under control.”

“You knew all along then that the last shooters had been some of the local customers?”

“No, no. ‘Till the last minute, when the overseer came running into the warehouse telling everybody what was going on, I was hoping the shooting was about something else. But when I heard what happened, I knew I had to stay ahead of the game somehow.”  

“So, you started lying to me … and what else?”

“Well, as I’ve said earlier, I want you to carry on with your caviar business, and I have to make sure of it. If you give it up, I’ll be out of a job and lose my comfortable lifestyle, or even end up on the streets.”

I bored my eyes into Olaf’s. “What is it you’re trying to do? Blackmail me?”

Without flinching, Olaf held eye contact. “No, no, it’s not that at all. I have to keep you here in Russia, at least for a while. You need to reconsider giving up your business. I assure you, it’ll be safe now. Those customers who went berserk won’t be eating caviar for a long while.”

I frowned. “And as I told you before, this is too close for comfort. I don’t want to be a part of this whole mess or become the prey the next time.”

“But don’t you see it?” Olaf towered over me. “There won’t be a next time. This is really in our favor. Once word gets around what happened to those people who were protesting, no customer will ever complain again about a missing order.”

Olaf’s breath blowing down on me had started to suffocate me. I squirmed out of its reach and said, “Just run the business as your own. You’re shrewd enough to do it. You even don’t shy back from chewing out others who want to be helpful, like you did with the little dog who offered to help find Ludwig.”

Part 22

My last comment seemed to be lost on Olaf, and I missed the warning sign. He shook his head and said, “It’s not going to work. How do I come up with the cats’ and dogs’ wages if I’m the business owner? I doubt the customers in your country will pay for the caviar by sending money to Russia.”

“It’ll be a good idea,” I said, “if you forget the international trade and merely deal with local customers. Then you can intercept their barter the same way we did it with the caviar shipments. I’m sure the cats and dogs would love to get their paws on chicken, venison and whatever else those customers will barter with.”

After nibbling on his beard off and on, Olaf glowered at me. “That wouldn’t be lucrative at all. In fact, there wouldn’t be any profit in for me. I’m now getting a generous salary from you while you make all that money from your rich customers in your country. You have to stay here so I can make sure you keep your business going, there’s no other way.”

“You know what, Olaf, I don’t bow to pressure.”

Olaf gave out a snort. “You will. Just wait, you’ll have enough time … you are stuck here.”

“We’ll see about that.” Now, I smirked at him, and with a sudden twist of my body, I lunged for his throat. I stabbed my teeth into it and held on.

Olaf wheezed and croaked. He shook his head violently from side to side, and I lost my pawhold and dangled in the air. Whipped back and forth with each jolt, I clamped my jaw.

I never intended to kill him—as far as I remembered I’d never harmed any creature. I needed Olaf alive anyway. He had to give me answers to how he did his handiwork on rendering my dog tag invalid for the USB ports.

I wasn’t even out for blood and only wanted to scare the living daylights out of him, but I didn’t expect his reaction.

He panicked. His body broke out into a convulsion, shuddering, lurching and writhing. As he frantically thrashed his head around and around, he reared up, hoisting me above the computer.

Rather crashing down atop the computer than riding out Olaf’s hysteria, I opened my mouth to let go of his throat. It didn’t dislodge. A clump of his fur wedged between my upper teeth had me stuck and kept me flapping in midair.
With my jaw pried, the vise on Olaf’s throat was gone, and he stopped rearing up but didn’t calm down. He bucked, now hurling me down to the ground and back up, again and again.

Each time my paws touched the ground, I smacked my tongue around my teeth to knock loose the crap stuck there. It didn’t do any good but added fuel to the fire of my tormented mouth from the yo-yo game destined to pull out my teeth.

In order to beat fate, I put my rear legs to work. The moment they hit the ground, I pulled them up halfway to my belly and did my damnedest to kick them against Olaf’s chest. It was a pathetic blow, and Olaf carried on with his wild see-saw dance. 

This time, my legs still up in the air, I hit the ground with my butt, and something shifted inside my mouth. I looked up and saw Olaf soaring above me.

 Part 23

I rolled to the side as fast as I could and barely missed Olaf as he came crushing down. He bucked again, and I rolled farther away, and when I was out of his reach, I scrambled to my paws, bent forward and threw up a glob of hair.

Hoping none of my teeth had ended up in the crud, I moved my tongue around my mouth and didn’t find any holes or sharp edges. Relieved, I watched Olaf snapping out of his fit.

Without my weight pulling down on his throat, his erratic jerks slackened ever so slowly. Instead of bucking, he stumbled back and forth until he slumped down, but he didn’t stay knocked out for long.

Before I could ask if he was OK, he lifted his head and riveted his glare on me, the white of his eyes showing.

“I hope you learned your lesson,” he barked, his voice hoarse, as he took a crack at standing up. His first attempts failed, but then, he found his balance, and still croaking, he said, “I got you there, didn’t I? If I had wanted to, I could have killed you.”

He slowly approached me, and I slunk backward. Was his delusion about what had happened a fallout from his seizure or had he gone off the deep end? Either way, it let me off the hook, and I played along.

“I never had a chance,” I said, trying to keep my voice steady while hoping he wouldn’t attack me for real. “You’re so much bigger.”

“And you’d better never forget it.” He started to teeter again and sat down.

A sudden rumble pulled my eyes away from him. I turned toward the chutes and listened. “That noise, was that thunder?” I asked.

Olaf cackled. “The only thing I heard was the growling of your stomach. Why don’t we make peace and get something to eat. I’m kind of hungry, too.”

My stomach growled again. It was the same noise I heard before, but even louder, and Olaf’s suggestion tempted me. Despite my growing anger and animosity toward Olaf, sharing a meal with him wouldn’t kill me. At the least, he wouldn’t poison me since his grand scheme was having me around as his benefactor. Besides, I started to feel weak and needed food to keep my strength up and my wits about me.

I turned back to him. He looked more relaxed now, almost tired and beat. Nodding my head, I said, “But where would we find something edible? Isn’t everything locked up by now?”

“I always keep some snacks in my office at the packing house. Let’s head over to it. There’s also more than enough water. I think we both need to slurp up a ton of it.”

As earlier in the day, Olaf and I walked side by side in complete silence toward the fish house. We nosed our way through the dark and reached the adjacent packing house. Fumbling with the remote dangling from his collar, Olaf unlocked the main door and his office door. He switched on the light.

Part 24


The office Olaf called his own was clean and neat. On his desk sat an open laptop, next to papers and folders stacked in perfectly arranged piles. Two chairs, resembling pieces out of a museum, were standing, as if to attention, in front of it. To the right of them against the wall was a huge bowl filled with crystal clear water. A mat to catch any spills was underneath it.

Olaf’s penchant for tidiness must have shown through during the vetting process for his job my kitty brothers, Thomas and Tiger, had conducted because both were partial to neatniks. I wondered how someone so meticulous and organized could have become a backstabber. I had expected his workstation to mirror his deranged mind.

Olaf was slurping up the water, hacking and choking with each gulp. I watched him, afraid he had snapped out of his stupor and now knew why he was struggling to swallow. When he was finally done, he called me over for my turn to drink.

With my muzzle in the oversized water bowl, I was wondering if this was the time for his revenge. He could easily push my head down, simulating waterboarding. I heard him coughing down my neck and quickly pulled my nose out of the bowl.

“Sorry,” he said, “this cough, I don’t know where I got it from.”

I took a few more licks of water.

Still coughing, Olaf stepped around his desk. “Sit down.” He pointed to the two antique chairs in front and made himself comfortable on an easy chair behind the desk. He opened a drawer, pulled out two small bags of potato chips and slid one of them across the desk.

“Dig in,” he said, as he gnawed off the edge of his bag. “It’s not a fancy dinner, but those chips are darn good. They come from your country. You see, you’ll feel right at home here, at least as far as the food.”

I ripped the bag apart and bared my teeth before I took a bite. Olaf already had his eyes set on the chips in front of him and gobbled them up, hacking and choking again between bites.

After taking a deep breath following another coughing spell, he said, “I noticed you sounded concerned asking if you heard thunder while we were in the warehouse. I assume you’re not a friend of stormy weather?”

“It’s not that,” I answered, swallowing my last potato chip. “It’s the thunder and lightning I hate. Do you have much of that here?”

“No, not at all. Our climate is rather moderate, another reason for you to stay here—and enjoy it.”

I snorted. “Since you’re so determined to keep me here, tell me, what did you do that my tag won’t work?”

Olaf leaned forward on the desk. “You see, we are very knowledgeable here about hacking. A good friend of mine, you might call him a computer specialist, who owes me some favors, was only too glad to help me out with hacking your Internet ID account. He did a good job, wouldn’t you agree? And he did it so shortly after he’d repaid me another favor. Two brilliantly executed plots in one day.”

My front paws shot up, and I planted them on the desk to stop me from going at Olaf’s throat again. “OMD … You had Ludwig’s ID account hacked, too, didn’t you? What have you done to it?”

Part 25

A smirk appeared on Olaf’s face. “It’s a clever bug planted into your friend’s account. Every time he uses his tag, the destination automatically reverts to India, so he’ll just move around in that country.”

My eyes popped as Olaf’s bombshell sank in. He really had turned into a maddog. “Why are you doing this?” It was all I could come up with to say.

Olaf chuckled and frowned at the same time. “I couldn’t allow your friend to go back and tell you what he’d found here. He had to go somewhere else once he was ready to leave. So, as soon as I learned you send him, I went to work. The computer specialist suggested making him disappear to India, a huge country, easily to get lost in.”

“But Ludwig never got around to doing and finding anything here. He came and left in one go. Why trap him?”

“You see, by the time he arrived at the warehouse, everything was already lined up, and then the shooting broke out. And then, you arrived. Something I hadn’t expected at all.”

I pushed my paws forward to get closer into Olaf’s face. “For goodness sake, why didn’t you call off the hacking job on Ludwig’s account when I started to check things out around here?”

Olaf pulled back, sat up straight on his chair and clicked his tongue. “You see, I need to keep your friend away from you now more than ever. Sending him to India was the best thing. Now, he can’t interfere with our little consensus we unanimously reached, right?”

Seeing no sense in answering his question, I asked, “So, when did you decide to hack my account?”

“As I said before, I had to stay ahead of the game. After the cats told on me and you learned about the government investigation, I contacted my good friend, the computer specialist, and he did his work to keep you here in no time. Unfortunately, I forgot to tell him also to wipe out all the browser history on the computers in the warehouse to prevent you from tracing your friend. So, I decided to go over there and do it myself manually, but you and your two midgets, Sergio and his smartass girlfriend, beat me to the computers.”

I was ready to spit at Olaf’s face again, but instead, I said, “I have news for you, you and your computer crook are not the only ones who know how to get around the Internet. I have my own resources and would have traced Ludwig with or without your interference.”

Olaf gave out a chortle. “They don’t seem to be of any service to you. After all, you had to beg for help from those midgets to get an idea of what happened to your friend. And don’t underestimate our hacking capability. I’ll soon have control over all yours and your friend’s Internet accounts, and of course, the cell phones, too.”

The abyss I was sliding down had just become deeper and deeper. I was hoping Ludwig would email Wylie to let him know where he was in India once he found out about his dilemma of being stuck there. Now, I didn’t even know if Olaf had already cut off Ludwig’s email account, and I surely didn’t want to sound whiney and ask.

Olaf’s threat to freeze my email account was mostly hot air for the moment. If he wanted me to do business from here, I needed access to it. The only thing he could do was supervise it. However, once I got away from him and out of Russia, I had to act quickly and double secure my accounts.

I only had one option to get out of the darn country, and it was the way I’d entered it, via the Internet. Anything else would be a flop. If I would run away and catch a truck or train, it would take forever to reach a border and a lifetime to reach home. And there was no way to sneak into a plane if destiny would deliver me to an airport.

Despite all the mess I had to deal with, an idea of how to enter the Internet without my ID was spinning in my head. I could hitch a ride with one of the courier dogs. The problem was how to get away from Olaf long enough to do it, and I had to find a dog at least my size. 

The other way out might be to talk Sergi into taking me with him on his delivery run. It could end up in a disaster, though, because he was about half my size. From my own experience on one of our Internet trips piggybacking Ludwig, who topped my size by only a little bit, I knew that carrying too big a load could cause trouble. 

Part 26

While I was contemplating an escape route, Olaf had filled up on water again. Now sitting back at his desk, he was watching me.

I suppressed a yawn. It had been a long day, and a bad one, and I could barely stay awake, but I didn’t want Olaf to notice it. He might be waiting for me to doze off and come up with yet another scheme. I would have rather gone for a role reversal.

When I saw his eyelids drooping, I asked, “What about camping out here and getting some sleep?”

Olaf mumbled something, opened one eye and said, “That’s a good idea. I often spend the night here.”

He curled up in his chair, and I soon heard him breathing evenly. Could it be that easy to get away from him, or was he just acting? Maybe he had pushed a secret button to kiddy-lock the doors and knew I couldn’t get out.

Cautiously, I slipped off my chair and around the desk and observed Olaf for a few minutes. He seemed to be fast asleep.

I tiptoed to the door, and with my front paws, I walked up the door as quietly as I could and stretched up high to have a good grip on the handle. I pulled it down.

To my surprise, the door flew open, and I tumbled out of the office. Without looking back, I hightailed it to the main door.

Throwing caution to the wind about making a noise, I took a jump at that door handle. It didn’t go down, and I jumped for it again. This time, it moved downward, but the door stayed closed.

I pounded at the door and the handle over and over again, and the racket I made grew louder and louder. As a guffawing came booming from the office, the door gave.

I rammed my body against it and catapulted outside. Behind me, Olaf shouted, “Run all you want, but I’ll always know where you are.”

I did run, Olaf’s words echoing in my head and following me through the dark like the chant of an evil spirit. I passed the warehouse and kept running until I reached the wooded area I’d always seen in the distance.

Exhausted, I collapsed behind a tree. A minute or so of rest cleared my mind, and I listened for Olaf’s pawsteps and panting, but apparently, he hadn’t given chase. Was it because he had managed to plant a tracking device on me so he could always find me, no matter what?

How could he have done it? It was one thing to attach a spy bug inconspicuously on an object, but to place it on a live body was a different story. I should have noticed it.

To make sure nothing stuck on my back, I rolled around on the ground, and nothing scraped or pricked me. I checked all my four legs and paw pads and scratched my neck and head with my rear feet and didn’t feel any bulges or knobs other than my old skin growths.

Hoping I was safe for now, and with nothing else to do until the crack of dawn, I moved a little bit farther into the woods for a more sheltered spot to hit the sack. As tired as I was I thought I would fall asleep instantly, but Olaf’s last words popped back into my head and haunted me.

Was it possible that the hacker of my Internet ID account had altered my dog tag into a tracking tool? … No. He or someone else would have needed to insert at least some kind of microchip into it, and nobody had touched my tag.

My mind kept churning, and I tried to remember what else had happened that would have put Olaf in the position of pinpointing my whereabouts. Nothing came up, and sleep was slowly getting the better of me after all.                      

Part 27

I dozed off, only to wake up with a start. I’d dreamed about devouring a big juicy steak, served on a platter surrounded by four giant potato chips, each one garnished with a black mike. 

OMD. I stared into the darkness. Could Olaf have planted a bug in the bag of potato chips he’d given me? Was I a walking GPS tracker?

Olaf had been smooth enough to promote those chips, stressing they came from the United States, but they could have come from anywhere. And it didn’t take a rocket scientist to reseal an opened bag. But it would have been a rather short-lived booby trap. Sooner or later, nature would have been on my side and taken care of it for me.

I shook my head, not so much as to dispute Olaf’s hypothetical scheme but as to shake off that stupid dream and focus on reality. Believing that the Russians would be far enough ahead of the game to spike the food with mikes bordered on hallucination. It was more likely that Olaf tried to bait me and had no idea at all where I was.

Having come up with a more plausible and less disturbing explanation, I passed out for good and slept throughout the night, deeply and peacefully. Bright daylight woke me up, and I kicked myself for having slept away the morning. I should have already been casing out the warehouse for a ride with someone on the Internet. 

I stomped off to the edge of the woods and peeked around the last tree. My stomach started growling again. It must have been close to lunchtime, and I was hoping to bum part of a sandwich from one of the humans working at the warehouse.

Looking across the rocky terrain at the building, I could make out its façade but got only a glimpse of something else next to it. I blinked my eyes several times. Yeah, a figure was moving back and forth in front of where the main door should have been. It was rather big but not a human.

With an uneasy feeling, I crept toward it. I had to duck to keep in the lee of the few shrubs, most of them grown together, but stumpy. The closer I came, the more the figure turned into a dog, and into Olaf.

Like a sentry, he paraded in circles along the entrance of the warehouse, his head up high and turning it in all directions after each round. Apparently, I had come to the right conclusion last night that he was in the dark about where I was.

Now, he most likely was on the lookout for me, and I didn’t like it one bit. If I could see him this clear, he could spot me by the slightest movement I made. I had to find better cover than this ground-hugging thicket in front of me.

There was a good-size rock to my right, but several jumps away. It would be a matter of timing to reach it without Olaf noticing me. 

I waited for him to make another circle so he’d have his back toward me. Just before he made the turn, he stopped, his face pointing at me. With my eyes glued to him, I flattened out on my stomach.

Instead of holding his gaze in my direction, Olaf jerked his neck to the left. My eyes followed what had captured his curiosity, and in the distance, I saw a dog heading toward him. It was one of the courier dogs, and he had riveted all of Olaf’s attention.

As fast as I could, I clambered to my paws and scurried toward the rock and scooted behind it. Panting, I took a peek around it. Olaf had not seen me. He was fussing with the other dog.

His tail between his legs and wildly nodding his head, the dog seemed to be paying heed to what Olaf was preaching. A moment later, he slunk away from him and slipped through the door into the warehouse.

My heart sank. By all accounts, Olaf had figured out how I would try to escape and gave the courier dogs a stern warning. As I watched the same spectacle played out between Olaf and each dog carrying a small package into the warehouse, my chances of hitching a ride were dropping and dropping.                     

Part 28

My hope of digging up bites of a sandwich also started to go down the drain. Olaf should have taken a lunch break by now, and I wondered if he’d already eaten something he’d ordered someone to bring him. If so, he’d be prowling in front of the warehouse the rest of the day.

To calm my growling stomach, I chewed on a few blades of grass sprouting from under the rock. They were dry like straw, and I now wished it had rained the night before and moistened the grass. At least, I could have sucked up some of its moisture.

While I had the perfect place to hide and keep an eye on the warehouse and Olaf, I needed to get moving and find a way to get inside the building. With any luck, one of the dogs might be fed up with Olaf’s bullying tactics and take me piggyback into the Internet after all.

There had to be a backdoor to the warehouse or at least some kind of emergency exit, but who knew what the safety regulations here in Russia were, if there were any at all. Somehow, I had to get to the rear of the building and find out.

I could creep back quite a way and return in a large loop to the other side of the warehouse. Without giving it another thought, I knew it was a no-go because the scanty shrubbery would leave me exposed for most of both stretches.

My better option was to take the risk and make a run for the opposite side of the warehouse where Olaf was waiting. As soon as he intercepted the next courier dog and had his eyes on him while reading him the riot act, I’d bolt.

I girded myself, squatting, not standing up, and tightening my leg muscles, and I shifted my eyes in rapid successions from Olaf to where the courier dogs would make their way to the warehouse. They seemed to be meeting up with the cats to take over the packages of caviar closer to the packing house than specified in their job description. I guessed after the shooting, most of the cats were refusing to come near the warehouse.

It was a smart move on their part but made it difficult for me to watch out for a single dog approaching from far away. Had they transferred the packages a shorter distance away, it would have given me a head start for my getaway.

I squinted and blinked my eyes several times to make out a speck or some kind of movement far beyond Olaf, but nothing appeared or moved. No matter how much and how long I silently pleaded for another dog to arrive for a delivery run, nobody showed up anymore.

My legs started to cramp from squatting, and my eyes were tired from straining. Deliveries kept going throughout the day, but lull periods were common, too, according to what I remembered from my business records. The worst would have been if the packing house had already shut down for the day.

My fear of it grew when I saw Olaf halting his patrol. Without scanning his surroundings again, he sat down on a patch of grass next to the concrete entrance.

Seconds later, he dropped his head, jerked it back up and dropped it again. It sank lower and lower and finally came to a rest.

It hung stock-still for several minutes, and I could barely believe my luck. To seize the opportunity of Olaf’s catnap, I had to make a move, now. There was no time to weigh up if he was playing possum and it was a ruse to drive me out of hiding.

Hoping my legs would recover when I jumped up, I took a leap forward. The image of my racing my rabbit friends at a competition of our Rabbit Chasing Club flashed through my mind and wiped out any heaviness and tightness I’d felt in my leg muscles. With my usual vigor and agility, I sprinted toward my goal, the backside of the warehouse.

I careened around the corner of the building, still at full speed. The impact stopped me dead and almost knocked me out. Wobbling, I sat down on my haunches.         


Part 29

Everything was blurred in front of me. If I had slammed into Olaf, and absurdly for a second time, at least the outline of his huge body should have shone through the haziness, but it didn’t. Besides, he had to be flying on a rocket to beat me around to the opposite corner.

To clear my vision, I closed my eyes for a moment or two, opened them again and looked around. Nobody was there, but I spotted a trapdoor cut into the wall a few feet away from me. Had Olaf summoned a dog to guard it who was now ready to take me into custody?

I heard the trapdoor creaking and spun around to flee. A whisper coming from behind me held me back.

“Psst, psst, Hobo? Is that you?” The voice could have only been Elena’s.

Quickly, I turned back and saw a little dog squeezing through the gradually opening hatch.

“What the heck are you doing here?” I barked at her.

“Shhh, be quiet, Olaf is at the other side of the warehouse.” Elena wiggled free of the door flap, and it drifted back down but stayed open a crack.

“I know,” I said, now in a hushed tone, “that’s why I ran like the devil over here until I banged into someone.”

“Yeah, it was me, and you gave me a heart attack.”

“And I almost got one, too. You are a strong girl. I first thought it was Olaf I ran into.”

“Sergi taught me how to build up my muscles. You saw his, didn’t you? And I’m very proud of mine.”

“So, there’s no one else around here at the back?”

“No, I was waiting for you here. Sergi and I didn’t know where else to look for you. I thought you might try to find a rear entrance to the warehouse when I saw Olaf guarding the front.”

“Where’s Sergi?”

“He’s working the delivery runs. He has to keep a very low profile. Olaf has him under surveillance and even ordered some bullies to follow him straight to the computers. That’s why Sergi sent me to talk to you … if I’d find you.”

“Tell me, you know what Olaf is doing at the main entrance?”

Elena took a step forward. “Let me first sneak up there and make sure he’s still asleep.”

I stopped her. “How do you know he’s taking a nap? It was only a couple of minutes ago that I saw him passing out.”

“I’ve been running back and forth, keeping an eye on the door here and on Olaf over there. I’d just returned from seeing him dozing off when you crashed into me. And then I hid inside the door until I recognized you.”

Elena split, and as fast as she’d left, she hurried back. “We’re OK, Olaf is still all conked out. But before I get down to the nitty-gritty of his trickery, let’s move away from here and to the edge of the forest. Then we don’t have to worry about him.” 

Part 30

Elena sprinted toward the row of trees in front of us with me on her heels. I tried not to kick her legs but almost stumbled over her when she slowed down at the first tree trunk. Just in time, I jumped up in the air, vaulted over her and landed facing another tree, a tall and thick one.  

“A great pick, you found it fast,” Elena said as she sat down behind it, leaving me enough room for taking cover also. “From here, we should be able to see if anyone moves around the warehouse. Keep your eyes on it.”

Glancing at it but then eying her, I asked, “How come you and Sergi went through the trouble trying to find me?”

“Well, Olaf has made you persona non grata who needs to stay under his control, and we don’t like it. Here’s his racket in a nutshell: He has given notice to everyone that he has taken over the business and that you’re trying to sabotage it and that he has installed extra security to make sure you won’t try to pull a fast one, while he himself is also guarding the main entrance. Then, he ordered each courier dog to detain you if they run across you and let him know immediately.”

A stifled sigh seeped through my nostrils. “I was afraid something like that was happening, only not that bad. The fact is, I’d offered to let Olaf take over the business, but he didn’t want to be any part of it. Instead …” I kept on telling Elena about my war with Olaf and how it had started.

Elena furrowed her brows. “Sergi and I thought of how you could break away. The moment we heard Olaf slamming you, we knew he was playing some kind of vicious game, controlling you Russian style.”

I pointed toward the warehouse. “What about the trapdoor over there? Why doesn’t Olaf have someone patrol it?”

“He either doesn’t know about it or he knows that the only way to open it is from the inside.”

“You didn’t slip past Olaf into the warehouse and open that door, did you?”

“No way. He doesn’t have anybody shadowing me, but I’m sure he wouldn’t let me come close to the warehouse. No, it was one of the cats, I think his name is Boris, who crawled through one of the chutes and opened the trapdoor for me.”

“You don’t say! Boris. He had herded the cats for me to talk to, and some of them blew the whistle on Olaf.”

Elena giggled. “Olaf doesn’t have much luck intimidating them like he does with the courier dogs who are scared stiff of losing their jobs and having to beg for food. The cats can always catch mice around here. They would have to work harder for it than they do now, and it’s never certain they will catch a mouse and have their next meal, but they’ll survive.”

“If Boris can sneak into the warehouse, Olaf must not keep a close eye on the cats to make sure they won’t help me.”

“No, he doesn’t. He just can’t monitor everybody. Apparently, he thinks the cats are the least likely ones to be of much help to you in getting away from here.”

“Good for me. You said you were hiding behind the trapdoor, but how do you keep it open from the outside? I noticed it didn’t fall shut after you’d crawled out.”

“It’s very old, that’s why it creaks so loudly and gets stuck before it closes all the way. A big advantage for us and our mission of rescuing you.”

I stared at her, letting her last comment sink in for a minute. “You said our mission?”

“Of course, we’re going to help you escape and make sure you get away. What do you think Sergi and I were discussing before I came here?”

“Your helping me get into the warehouse is all the help I can ask for … only I’ll end up there high and dry after what you told me about Olaf and the courier dogs. I was counting on catching a ride with one of them.”

“Yeah, that’s why Sergi and I came up with a plan for your escape. And it’s perfect.”

Part 31

I listened to Elena’s account of what she and Sergi had masterminded for my getaway. She was all excited about it, and while I was cautious, I couldn’t see any loopholes or come up with any unanswered questions. She had presented a detailed and well thought-out plan.

“OK, I’m leaving now.” Elena jumped to her paws. “I’ll be back after dark. But it’ll be a few hours after the warehouse has closed down for the day. We don’t want a latecomer to surprise us when we’re inside.”

“Hey, wait,” I said, “what about some food? Can you send someone to bring me something to eat? I’m starving.”

“I’d rather not. The least dogs and cats know about your being here, the better it is.”

“You’re right. But what about some water. Is there any around here, a pond or something like that?”

Elena nodded. “If you follow a straight line through the trees on your left, there’s a creek running along the edge of the forest. It’s not far, we’re at the tip of the woods here. There’s also some grass growing along the bank you can nibble on. But be back here by nightfall so I don’t have to chase you down or have to call for you.”

When Elena had left, I pondered her and Sergi’s plan. It was foolproof as long as nobody saw my disappearing act. Olaf wouldn’t know what had happened when he couldn’t find me and nobody else had seen me. Still, I worried about Sergi. If something went wrong, he would be the one who had to pay the price. 

Following Elena’s directions, I made my way toward the creek to tank up on water and to find some palatable grass. Now and then, I picked up a long twig and, using it as a marker, placed it lengthwise right in the middle between two trees. I didn’t want to run the risk of getting lost not knowing how much I had to twist and turn to get down to the creek to reach the water with my tongue.

As Elena had told me, it wasn’t far, and I soon saw a clearing ahead of me. In front of it and winding alongside was a ribbon of lush grass. I hurried to it.

The narrow little stream behind it was barely moving, but its bank was high and steep, cluttered with stones, pebbles and thorny stems. I explored it while munching on the grass, looking for a way to climb down to the water.

It didn’t take me long to find a more gentle slope, and I made my way down to the creek, one paw at a time. Some knobby roots were sticking out here and there. They came in handy and prevented my paws from slipping on the pebbles.

I reached the water unscathed and without tumbling into it and gulped down the refreshing brew until I could drink no more. Ready to climb back up the bank, I raised my nose.

Before I could turn around, I heard a loud splash in front of me. My eyes darted across the water and bulged at the sight of a fish. The creature, bigger than bite-size, was leisurely swimming along. Food. It was the only thought racing through my mind and driving away any precautions and, even worse, any common sense. I lunged at the lip-smacking meal.

It was a big mistake. By the time I’d dived into the water, the fish was long gone, but I couldn’t find any pawhold. Struggling to stay afloat, I kicked my legs in all directions.

Part 32

I had no idea if I could swim, never having been in a body of water that could have swallowed me. The common saying among people that all dogs could swim wasn’t any comfort to me. People just loved the line ‘If I can do it, so can you’ which we dogs knew was pure hogwash, but humans always came up with all kinds of cockeyed beliefs, and sadly too often. 

Remembering seeing dogs doing the doggy paddle, I set out to try my paw at it, but before I had a chance, I hit ground. I straightened out my legs, and testing the bottom of the creek with each step, I waded through the now shallow water until I found a slope at the steep bank.

Dripping wet, I slowly climbed up and made sure I wouldn’t plunge back down into the water. Finally feeling solid and level ground under my paws, I gave myself a good shake, and another one, and another one.

It didn’t help to dry me off, but shivering from the wet cold wasn’t what bothered me. What bugged the hell out of me was my stupidity of falling into the water and, to add insult to injury, for an asinine reason. My only hope was that by the time I met with Elena my fur would be dry enough to make our plan work.

I looked around where I’d ended up on top of the bank. It was not the spot where I’d crawled down to the creek, but my sense of direction slowly kicking in led me to it, marked by a long twig pointing toward the bank. 

Quickly, I located the next twig. Tracing each one I’d laid out on my way through the woods, I galloped along, doing some extra jumps in between to speed up my drying off.

The tall trees surrounding me made it difficult to tell what time it was and whether twilight was already looming. In any case, everything might turn out all right if I kept moving around airing my fur while waiting for Elena who wanted to show up after dark.

All hopes vanished when I approached the edge of the forest and saw Elena already standing at our meeting place. I became even more dismayed when I saw the expression on her face as I drew close to her.

“Oh no.” I panted. “Did something go wrong?”

Elena looked me over before she shook her head. Then, barely audible, she said, “But you, you’re all wet.”

“I fell into the creek,” I answered sheepishly but shied away from telling her why.

“OMD. I wished I hadn’t suggested you go there for water. I’d rather you be thirsty with your tongue hanging out than soaked to the skin like you are.”

“Hey, come on, you don’t mean that. Being dehydrated wouldn’t get me far.”

“But now, you might not be getting anywhere.”

I frowned. “Our plan isn’t off, is it?”

Elena shook her head again. “It’s just that Sergi always warns me not to get any slobber on his tag or even on his collar when we hug and say our goodbyes before he goes off to the Internet.”

“Oh … Now, I know what you meant. I’m worried too about my wet fur dousing the tag.”

Elena’s face lit up a bit. “Maybe we’ll luck out and there’ll be a rag somewhere in the warehouse and I can blot your fur with it and wipe down the tag.”

“You got it then?” I eyed her neck. “I don’t see it.”

Part 33

Elena gave her neck a twirl, and a small dog collar with a tag attached to it dangled from her own collar.

“Wow.” I patted her on the shoulder. “But, did you run into trouble? That’s why you came so early?”

“No, no trouble, but kind of a problem. The packing house closed early …”

I butted in. “What I was afraid of when Olaf …”

“Well, let me finish. Sergi was the last courier dog returning for the day, and he overheard Olaf telling someone that he’ll have extra guards patrolling the warehouse during the night. So, we decided to set our plan in motion immediately. And since Olaf checked everybody in and out who left with an order today, there won’t be any late arrivals tonight to mess us up.”

“Have you been waiting here long?”

“Just a few minutes. Now, unfasten Sergi’s collar from mine, and I’ll wrap it around your collar.”

“You want to do it here?”

“We want to avoid making any noise inside the warehouse. Olaf is still at the front door.”

I worked at the clasp of Sergi’s collar with my teeth and nails until it clicked, and the collar dropped down. I picked it up. It was sturdy, but so short, I would have needed two, if not three, to tie around my neck.

Elena snatched it out of my mouth. “Lie down so I can reach you.”

She fumbled around my neck and my collar for a moment. “There you go,” she said, gloating. “I twisted Sergi’s collar around yours several times so it fits snugly. That way, it’ll be easier for you to align his tag with the USB port.”

“Gee, you know a lot about the process of Internet traveling without having done it yourself.”

“Sergi has told me all about it. I asked him so many questions that he got tired of answering me at the end, but I learned a lot about the Internet travels.”

“You know what you’ll be up against and that it won’t be child’s play. Are you sure you want to go through with it?”

Elena nodded her head. “Of course. And believe it or not, I’m looking forward to it. I’ve always wanted to hitch a ride with Sergi, but there was never the right time.”

“OK then, let’s go over everything before we get to the warehouse. We use the computer closest to the trapdoor and the farthest away from the front door. Do you know if the computers are running?”

“Sergi didn’t mention anything about shutting his down. I doubt Olaf would leave his sentry post to do it, if it even crossed his mind.”

“I hope you’re right because those old computers take forever to boot up. Anyway … OMD! How could I forget that? … Do you have Sergi’s Internet ID code? I need it for using his tag.”

There was a long silence while Elena stared at me. Like a scene unfolding in slow motion, her mouth opened and words formed on her lips. As I made out an n and an o, I closed my eyes and ears.

Part 34

I could still hear Elena talking, but my brain had shut down. With everything lost, I was at my wit’s end. Time had run out. Once Olaf had the guards on duty, there wouldn’t be another chance for my escape.

“Hey, Hobo.” Elena gave me a shove. “Did you memorize it?”

My eyes popped open. “What?”

“The code, you idiot. I just spelled it out for you.”

Before I knew what I was doing, I jumped up and hugged her. “I thought you said no, meaning you didn’t have it.”

“Eh? You’ve lost me.”

“Sorry. I was reading your lips. I wasn’t listening.”

“Oh … What you must have seen was my saying an n and an o. The code starts with those letters. It’s the way they set up the commercial codes. I would know Sergi’s in my sleep. He made me repeat it over and over so I wouldn’t forget it.”

I sat back down, shaking my head. “I feel as if I’m losing my mind. Luckily, you two are on the ball.”

Elena smiled at me. “I might as well punch the code in myself. But just in case, here it is again.”

Slowly and clearly, Elena repeated the letters and numbers of Sergi’s Internet ID code. I did my best to commit it to memory, but Elena insisted she’d be in charge of it, and I was glad she did.

“When you have punched everything in the address bar,” I said, “you jump down to the computer as fast as you can and hold on to me as tightly as you can. Don’t let go, under any circumstances. Whatever happens, hold on as if your life depends on it. As soon as Sergi’s tag makes the connection with the USB port, it’ll be rough.”

“Well, I’m ready,” Elena said. “But one more thing. Since it’s still somewhat daylight and whoever might be out here can see us, I run first to the trapdoor and signal you if the coast is clear from my angle. Then you scan the vicinity from your end and make a dash for me.”

“That reminds me, we better pull the trapdoor shut when we’re inside the warehouse so the coming guards won’t get suspicious.”

“Yeah, we have to do that, but very, very carefully so Olaf won’t hear us. And we’d better lock it also.”

“I guess that’s all we need to talk about,” I said.

“And all we need now is good luck.” Elena jumped to her paws, looked in all directions and sprinted toward the warehouse.

I followed her with my eyes while glancing right and left at the same time. Everything remained quiet. Shortly after Elena reached the warehouse, I saw her waving me on, and having made sure nobody was in sight, I hightailed it to her. 

Part 35

The trapdoor was still a tad open, and pushing it ajar, we crawled into the warehouse. The lights were on. Again, nobody had bothered to turn them off. It was a promising sign that also the computers were on, and I thought I could hear them humming.

When I had cleared the door, Elena pulled it shut, inch by inch. With each creak, she stopped and listened before carrying on. After a few agonizing minutes, she closed it, and the eye of the lock at the door aligned with the hook on the frame at the side I was standing. I carefully slid the clasp through the eyelet, and Elena did the same on the other side.

We stood still, our ears pricked up. There was nothing but silence around us except for a steady murmur, confirming that the computers were running. Reassured, I signaled Elena to search for something we could use to dry off my fur.

While she started at the other end of the warehouse, I looked everywhere in between but didn’t find a single thing. Then, I saw Elena slithering backward from under a computer station, dragging a box of tissue paper with her. 

The box was almost empty, and it took all our ingenuity to paw the leftover tissues noiselessly out from the bottom and not rip them to shreds. With me stretched out flat on my belly, Elena, using one sheet at a time, dabbed as much moisture as she could from my head, neck and back and then carefully polished Sergi’s tag.

She stuffed the wet tissues back into the box and slid the box silently back to where she had found it. My skin still felt damp, even around my neck, but I hoped that only the tag had to be bone-dry for making the connection with the USB port. I knew Elena had dried it off completely and did the best she could with the rest of my fur. Since we were good to go, I doubted that the moisture around my neck could seep onto the tag.

Quickly, I led the way back toward the trapdoor and stopped in front of the computer closest to it. Like all the others we passed, it was running.

Elena jumped on top of the console while I crouched down in front of the computer. I wiggled my body back and forth until I found the perfect position to press the tag on Sergi’s collar effortless against the USB port and to make it easy for Elena to climb on my back.

We had it well synchronized. The moment I was ready, I felt Elena touching my back and pulling herself high up. Holding on to me like a vice, she whispered in my ear, “Let’s go.”

I bent my neck toward the USB port, and Sergi’s tag clicked against it. The computer fan revved, but it never hit full speed. Gurgling and rasping, it slowed down. As it chugged along, a pitiful breeze blew out of the USB port, lacking the velocity and strength to suck Elena and me into the Internet.

The second I decided to pull my neck away and try again to get a connection, a pop hit my ears and a blazing light stung my eyes. The computer rattled and spit out a whirrrfffttt, whirrrfffttt, whirrrfffttt, clashing with the hiss of a sudden gust of air.

Lickety-split, the wind gathered momentum. It lashed out at me, then swirled around me, tighter and tighter with each spin, and finally whisked me off my paws, and Elena and I were on the way to the Internet.

Part 36

The ride went relatively smoothly. It was quite a difference having to carry a small and lightweight load like Elena than a big and heavy one like Ludwig I’d done some time ago. While the landing in the relay station was a little bit bumpy, Elena kept her hold on me without tumbling down.

“Wow,” she said as she slowly slid off my back. “What a ride.”

“But we’ve made it.” I gave out a sigh of relief. “And thanks to you, I’m out of that Russian hellhole. Are you still in one piece?”

Elena hopped in front of me. “See, I’m all here. But I admit, at one point, I thought the wind would tear me apart.”

“It’ll be a little bit less turbulent when you go home traveling on your own power instead of riding piggyback. I want to thank you and Sergi with all my heart for what you’ve done for me and the risks you’re taking for me. But I’m scared of what Olaf might do to you as revenge.”

“Don’t worry, we’ll be fine. Nobody will ever know what we did and that you escaped from Russia. You’re sure you have a way to get home from here?”

“Yes, I have a friend here in the Internet tunnels who can help me, one way or another.”

Cocking her head, Elena said, “I wonder, though, if we shouldn’t have gone to your home instead of here to the Internet.”

“No,” I answered, “it’ll be easier and faster from here than from home to set the wheels in motion to rescue my friend lost in India. I need a couple of things for doing it, and they’re only available in the kiosks here in the tunnels. Even if I don’t get another tag for traveling the Internet right away, I’ll get a temporary one to get me home.”

“I hope you’ll find your friend, and soon. So, let’s not waste time. Lie down, and I’ll take Sergi’s collar off.”

Elena unwound his collar from mine and gave it to me.

I sat up. “I’m going to fasten it right around your neck, next to yours. That way it won’t flip around or tangle up. I doubt I can do as good a job as you did tying it tightly around my collar.”

“That’ll be fine. Sergi just hung his collar around mine because it would be more convenient for you to snap it off from there than from my neck. When I’m back home, Sergi and I will have all the time we need to remove it.”

“It really was a fantastic idea you had to get me out of Russia. I don’t know how I can ever thank you for helping me. I only hope you and Sergi won’t get into any trouble for having done it.”

“I know I won’t. And if Olaf gives Sergi too hard a time for whatever reason, I’ll have Sergi move in with me and have my parents support him. It might take a bit of convincing, but they’ll give in. They always do.”

“Well,” I said, “if you’re ready, let me help you look up the Russian warehouse URL in the directory for your return.”

I prodded Elena to move, but she didn’t budge. Perplexed, yet alert, I threw her a questioning look.

Part 37

Elena caught my eye and shook her head. “We don’t need the directory. The warehouse destination is programmed into the tags so the courier dogs return automatically to it.”

I should have known better than to suspect Elena of harboring an ulterior motive, but momentarily derailed by her answer, it took me a second to comment on it. “You mean it works like the automatic return when you arrive at a computer and instantly leave again from it?”

“Exactly,” she said, “but it also has an extra safety feature built in. So, if for some reason there’s a delay, the tags send the courier dogs to one of the relay stations over here. From here, the dogs can only go back to the warehouse, nowhere else.”

I frowned. “A system similar to the one my friend Ludwig fell victim to, only he’s now stuck in India.”

Elena nodded. “It’s to keep them under control and to make sure they find their way back, but it also serves as a deterrent not to visit other places or to play hooky. So, to get around it, some of the courier dogs loiter at their delivery stop in order to end up at the relay station and then fool around in the Internet tunnels. But only very few dogs know of it, and those are the latecomers Sergi told you about.”

“I admire your knowledge about all this stuff,” I said. “I feel like a rookie at it compared to you.”

“It’s only because I’m so nosy and Sergi explained everything to me.”

“For having a bunch of archaic computers, the Russians are surely up-to-date with the technology to control others and hold them hostage.”

“They are spymasters, no doubt about that.” Elena sighed.

Making sure I hadn’t misread her after all, I said, “You know, you have a chance now, right here, to get away from it all, from Russia. I could help you.”

Without missing a beat, Elena answered, “Nah, thanks for the offer, but I never would take off on Sergi like that and leave him alone in Russia. Besides, we have a pretty good life over there.”

“I knew you wouldn’t go for it. But if you two ever decide to defect, let me know. I’m sure I can arrange something.”

I gave Elena my email address. Thanking her again for hers and Sergi’s help, I bent down to hug her, but something else entered my mind. “How are you going to leave the warehouse when you get back, now that the guards will be snooping all around there?”

Elena shrugged her shoulders. “I’ll just wait and sneak out through the trapdoor in the morning when the warehouse opens and the guards are gone. And I’m sure I can sweet-talk Boris into locking the door later so there will be no evidence of someone having used it.”

“You are thinking of everything, aren’t you?”

This time, I gave her a big, long hug, and she returned it. As we wished each other the best of luck, Elena stepped to the computer, held her neck against the USB port and set out on her solo Internet travel back to Russia. 

Part 38

I left the relay station and pondered which direction of the Internet tunnel to choose to find Henry, one of the attendants of the kiosks scattered throughout the Internet. I opted for a right turn. Trotting along, it dawned on me that I had no idea where the kiosk my old and father-like friend occupied was located and that it was nothing but a waste of time leaving it up to chance to run across it.

I returned quickly to the relay station to take advantage of the recent innovation of relay station-to-relay station travel inside the Internet so that I would arrive close to the kiosk where Henry worked. Hoping the digital directory would have his name listed under kiosk, I pulled up the menu on one of the computers and skimmed through it but couldn’t find that particular category.

OMD, I thought, this might be another lengthy exploration like Ludwig and I had to undertake trying to find the name of the ship on our cruise adventure. Recalling that we had to dig it up from a sub-category, I racked my brain under what main category kiosks would fall.

I came up with all kinds, from advising offices and clerical services to Internet travel accessories and tunnel essentials, but no matter how many times I went up and down the list clicking on each promising item, nothing pointed to a kiosk. My last hope was to find Henry in the name index, but I could only curse when I opened that part of the directory.

The names listed in alphabetical order were still appearing with the dogs’ last names, followed by a first name after a comma. I had been sure someone would have had already remedied this idiotic arrangement. It had stumped Ludwig and me in the past, and I now wished I had filed a complaint about it with management. None of us dogs would ever call each other by the last name. It was either by the first name or by a simple bark.

Merely glancing over the opened page, I counted at least four Henrys with last names I had never heard and wouldn’t have known even if one of them belonged to the Henry I was looking for. But the worst fault of the list was the omission of the dogs’ identities. So, even an alphabetical order of first names wouldn’t have helped me. I punched the directory exit button.

Fuming, I called it quits and headed for the door to continue the search on foot the way I had started it but heading in the opposite direction. It might be quicker after all than solving this harebrained puzzle.

A sudden afterthought sent me back to the computer. I had forgotten that there were more than just one sub-category, in fact, there were a bunch of them, and starting out with one-word entries would achieve the best results. 

I opened the menu again, began my search by clicking on Internet and went from there to the first sub-category, to Travel. I scrolled down the upcoming page, and scrutinizing each item on it, I selected Support as the second sub-category. For the third one, I chose Help, and for the following one Advice.  

The index of this sub-category was enormous. It consisted of five pages, with each page offering at least 20 to 30 different options. After getting it wrong three times without even coming close to something like Kiosk, I browsed page after page, wishing something would catch my eye.

And it did. Almost at the end of the fifth page, the entry Live Advice sounded as if it referred to something more physical than I’d run across so far.

I clicked on it … and bingo! Kiosk was one of the three headings. The other two were Relay Station and Door. Why someone would call those Live Advice was beyond me. Maybe whoever happened to be in it or behind it respectively could have been of service.

Opening the heading Kiosk, I stared again at a page full of listings in random order, and the pages kept going and going. After giving out a loud moan, I scanned the first two pages for Henry but without any luck. I went over them again.

This time, I was looking for Attendant or Kiosk Attendant and saw the promising words: Name of Attendant. I accessed it and gave out a sigh of relief when I read the top of the page. It said in big letters: First names of all current kiosk attendants in alphabetical order.

Quickly, I navigated to the letter H and felt like a million kibbles. Only one Henry was on the list, and I knew I had it made. In less than five minutes, I should pop out of a computer at a relay station only a short distance away from Henry’s workplace.

But if something seemed to be too good to be true, it usually was. It was one of the human sayings I reluctantly had to agree to. The moment I clicked on Henry’s name and read the instructions to upload myself to the computer, the million kibbles vanished into oblivion.

Part 39

I needed a valid tag to get going and my tag was inactive. While traveling from relay station to relay station didn’t require the use of an Internet ID code, the easing up on requirements didn’t expand to tags.

I read the instructions again and studied them word by word. The meaning behind them was that once you were inside the Internet, you had proven that you had an ID and didn’t need to confirm it when traveling inside the Internet as long as you had a registered tag.

I brooded over it for a while. What if I could substitute one thing for the other? Could a valid ID override a faulty tag? I had nothing to lose by giving it a try.

If it didn’t work, another solution was to impose on a fellow traveler showing up in here, who knew when, but I was wondering if a total stranger would be willing to make a detour and give me a ride on request.

I scrutinized the page I’d opened. Its address bar showed an URL, and above the instructions I’d just digested was Henry’s name, followed by a number.

Damn … that was the number of Henry’s kiosk. He had told me to remember it for an easy access, and I had forgotten. I could have dialed it into the search box without going through all the rigmarole I went through and would have come to this page with one single click.

Well, at least I didn’t get stuck somewhere in between. I read the rest of the page. Underneath Henry’s name were brief directions from the relay station designated in the address bar to his kiosk. I recalled from an earlier visit that both places were more or less just around the corner from each other.

Fiddling with the computer keys, I added my Internet ID code behind the posted URL. Since all the monitors and computers in the Internet tunnels consisted of one unit, I merely needed to bend my head down to reach a USB port with my tag at the lower front frame of the screen.

Holding my breath while aligning the tag with one of the ports, I silently chanted, “Make it work, make it work.”

The tag clanked against the USB port, and it made the connection. Before I had time to exhale, I was sailing through darkness, smoothly swaying along, accompanied by a purr contented kitties emitted, and something like the mist of a fountain brushing against my eyes made me close them. Barely feeling the touchdown, I landed a few seconds later.

Without moving a muscle, I relished the lingering sensation of the heavenly ride inside the Internet. Everything was the exact opposite from the daunting travel in and out of the Internet, except the supersonic speed, and I wished it would have been the direct opposite, too.

After a minute or two, I opened my eyes. Surrounded by computer stations, I knew I was in a relay station and hoped it was the one closest to Henry’s kiosk.

I went out of the door, looked right and left and found my bearings. The kiosk had to be just a short distance away from the corner to my left.

The moment I made the turn, I saw it jutting out of the wall halfway along the tunnel. It looked kind of deserted. What if Henry wasn’t there? I started to run.

Part 40

I stopped in front of the kiosk window, my heart racing, and stared at the drawn shades. They were supposed to be open if an attendant was on duty. Remembering the kiosk number, I looked for it above the window. It was the same number I’d found in the directory under Henry’s name.

I jumped onto the windowsill and tapped at the window. There was no response. I tapped again and again, harder and harder each time until it sounded like a pounding, ready to crack the glass. I took a break and tried to scratch at the window frame.

It was too narrow to do any good, but at its side, I noticed the small bell button I’d forgotten about. I pushed it with my nose but wasn’t sure if it was ringing. I pushed it again, this time holding my nose against it for a while before I pulled back. 

As I repeated it several times, I cursed under my breath. “Come on, Henry, come on. I’ve made it this far, don’t let me down now.”

When there was no answer, I barked and howled, ignoring law and order to keep the Internet tunnels quiet. After waiting a few minutes without anybody responding or showing up, I leaped from the windowsill, sat down on the floor and racked my brain over what could have been the matter with Henry.

It had been a while since I met him here, so a lot could have happened in the meantime. His listing in the directory, however, was supposed to be a current one, and it had steered me to this kiosk with the matching number.

Maybe Henry had stepped out momentarily to run an errand, but he would have put up a sign about returning shortly, and he wouldn’t have pulled the shades. Then again, he might have thought it necessary because he would be gone for hours. But what if he had fallen ill or hurt himself and couldn’t come to the window?

If I could just get into the kiosk, I might find something that would tell me what was going on or assure me that nothing was wrong with Henry. I stood up and looked alongside the kiosk and the tunnel wall.

There had to be an entrance somewhere, but it was not upfront. I spotted some doors on both sides of the kiosk, but they were quite a bit farther away, probably not belonging to it. Nevertheless, I trotted to the nearest one, and as I’d almost expected, it didn’t have any signs, no name, no designation or other identification, on it. I scrutinized three more doors from top to bottom, including their handles, and came up with the same disappointing results.

The last thing I wanted to do was open a door without having an inkling of what was behind it. Henry himself had warned me about it more than once and even suggested I always walk in the middle of a tunnel to have a buffer against any rogue door that might burst open, sucking me in and propelling me to no telling where.  

I wondered if I should return to the relay station and find another kiosk and attendant who could help me. No, I instantly decided, I couldn’t leave here not knowing if Henry was OK.

Tired of checking out more doors, I went back to the kiosk for another try at ringing the bell. It used to make a real loud sound inside the kiosk according to Lorelei, the former attendant. Maybe, I had to punch it several times in a row instead of keeping it pushed down.

I jumped on the windowsill again. Instead of using my nose, already dented from the constant pressure against the small bell button, I bent my head down and moved it forward and backward. As my forehead pressed down on the button and released it over and over again, I heard a faint ringing, but the window shades remained motionless.

Part 41

It didn’t take long for my brow to start hurting, and I pulled my head away from the bell. At the same moment, someone called out in a scruffy voice from inside the kiosk, “I’m coming, I’m coming. Give me time.”

Startled, I stared at the window, still covered by the shades. That hadn’t been Henry, had it? His voice used to be smooth and calming. He always talked like a father appeasing a little pup, not like a grouchy old dog lamenting.

Imagining the worst, I kept watching the window. As the shades slowly went up, the face of my trusted, elderly friend Henry appeared behind the glass panel.

His eyes, half opened, looked droopy, and he blinked them numerous times. He finally kept them open, and with a start, he pulled the sliding window aside and his face lit up.

“OMD … Hobo,” he said, poking his nose all the way through the opening. “What a pleasant surprise to see you. If I’d known you would pay me a visit, I would’ve been on the lookout for you.”

“I wasn’t sure if I would be able to meet with you. I really thought you weren’t here, the way I banged around, hollered and constantly rang the bell.”

“Oh, you did? I was taking a nap. I had a busy morning and early afternoon. So, I lay down afterward and must have passed out completely.”

“You’re doing well then?” I shifted around on the windowsill.”

“I’m doing all right, except for getting old, I guess. When I was younger, even a pin dropping would have woken me up, and now you’re telling me I’m sleeping like a rock. That’s something old dogs do.”

“Don’t say that. My kitty sister, Sabrina, sleeps like that, too, and she’s only in her teenage years. Just yesterday, I think, I had to actually jump on top of her and shake her to wake her up because I needed her help.”

Henry laughed. “Maybe it’s just the hard work and not old age after all that sends me into such a deep slumber. But, come on in, before you fall down from the windowsill.”

Henry moved away from the open window, and I crawled through it and on top of the service counter.

“Make yourself comfortable,” Henry said as he stepped into the adjacent room. “I’m getting us a snack and a drink. I’ll be right with you.”

I hopped from the counter onto the office chair in front of it and looked around Henry’s office. It wasn’t messy, but the desk, standing alongside the counter, cluttered with lots and lots of papers and folders and dog collars and satchels, gave the appearance of a busy place.

Some of the paperwork had slid onto the countertop, and spying the be back soon sign sticking out from underneath, I pulled it out. I jumped up to the window and closed it, placed the sign in front of it and drew the shades. I didn’t want any interruptions.

Sitting back down on the chair, I contemplated the small assortment of satchels lying on the desk. I sniffed, and the smell of kibbles hit my nose as I had expected. Just like the collars on the desk collected by Henry, those bags, filled with emergency provisions for Internet traveling, had to be lost and found ones belonging to young, inexperienced pups clowning around in the Internet tunnels. 

No wonder Henry was tired and needed so much sleep. Picking up after careless and unruly youngsters and keeping them straight was a chore by itself. As I stretched out to wait for Henry to bring out the chow, I felt kind of embarrassed and decided to get up and help him.  

Part 42

Henry came back before I could even shift my weight. He was pushing a tray with heaps of different goodies through the partition separating the office from the storage room.

“I hope you don’t mind eating on the floor,” he said. “It’s easier and faster than trying to lift everything on top of the counter.”

I jumped down from the chair. “This looks fantastic. I’m half dead from hunger and thirst.”

“Yeah, I thought so. You look all haggard and wrinkled.”

We both dug into the feast, and I swallowed a gallon of water in between bites.

“How did you put it all together so fast?” I asked after we’d finished. “You were only gone a couple of minutes.”

Henry licked his mouth. “I’m always prepared so when I get hungry, some delicious food is right at my paws and I don’t have to waste time scrounging up some tasteless kibbles. But tell me, what brought you here?”

I lapped up another mouthful of water, burped and leaned back. “You can’t even imagine what happened to me, and I can’t think of anyone but you who could get me out of this jam, and in a hurry.”

“I imagined that much,” Henry said, his eyes twinkling. “I’d like to think you just dropped by for a friendly visit, but from the frown on your face, I could tell that you were in some kind of trouble again.”

“And you wouldn’t believe the worst part of my trouble. I have to find my friend Ludwig again. He disappeared … in India.”

“Oh, no. Do you have any reference point to where he might be in India you could go by?”

“Yes, I have the URL he last used, which was an India address, when he uploaded himself to a computer and disappeared. I emailed it to my home and hope my brother saved it for me.”

“In that case, that smart little device, the Searcher, I gave you the first time you were trying to find your friend, should do the job in locating him when you follow him to that address.”

“That’s what I was counting on.”

“So, you remember how it works? You dial in your friend’s tag or Internet ID number and follow the beeps. The pause between them will get shorter and shorter the closer you come to your friend. And the new Searchers are even more refined now, more sensitive and having a much wider range. I have some right here, all charged and ready to go. Let me get one right now.”

“Wait,” I said, “there’s a major problem. There’s something wrong with my tag and with Ludwig’s, and probably with our Internet accounts, too.”

“Oh my.” Henry scratched his head. “That definitely makes things more complicated. I might be able to help you with your tag, but Ludwig’s is out of my league. And his tag has to be functioning for you to find him.”

Part 43

I threw Henry a pleading look. “Isn’t there anything at all you could do to help me find Ludwig? As far as I know, his tag is still working, but it’s most likely compromised.”

Henry knitted his brow, and in his fatherly tone, he said, “You’d better start telling me what happened from the beginning.”

And I did, starting with Olaf’s phone call about something fishy going on with my caviar business that sent me to Russia after Ludwig’s mysterious disappearance from there, continuing with Olaf’s treachery and his holding me hostage, and ending with my dramatic escape.

“That’s so sad,” Henry said, “and it must be very frustrating for you. You’ve built a lucrative business and someone ruins it for you.”

“I still can’t believe my manager in Russia deceived me,” I said, clearing my throat. “I’d trusted him, but apparently, all that spiteful human behavior has finally crossed over to us dogs. I guess my brother and a friend of mine were right, you can’t trust anybody in an environment infected by mistrust and animosity.”

Henry patted my shoulder. “Sorry, Hobo, … but we have to stay in the game. One day, we dogs will be able to turn things around, and then, kindness and integrity will prevail. But now, we have to find a way to get you going through the Internet again. You remember Kojak, don’t you? He’s now a big shot in cyberspace security.”

“Of course. In fact, we met a day ago, and he’s the friend I just mentioned.”

“That’s good. I’m sure he’ll be willing and able to lift whatever is blocking your Internet access.”

“I hope you’re right. He gave me some dire warnings about Russia and wanted to keep his own paws out of it.”

“Are you sure nobody tampered with your tag?”

“Yes, but take a look.” I jutted my head toward Henry, and he nudged my neck. 

He pulled on my collar and then let go. “Yeah, your tag is clean and shiny, like it should be. I can make you a new one, but it’ll be only a temporary one. The permanent one will take two to three weeks, and you have to pick it up here. The downside is that the temporary tag only allows you one exit and one entrance into the Internet.”

“I can’t afford any of it at all. I have to go home, get my brother and then, we have to rush to India to find Ludwig.”

“Let me call Kojak and see what he can do for you. I’ll be right back. I’ve got the phone in the storage room.”

Henry went behind the partition, and soon, I heard what sounded like a heated one-sided conversation that suddenly ended. I held my breath and listened, hoping to pick up a ‘talk-to-you-later’ goodbye but didn’t hear another word. My ears dropped. Had Kojak been so upset that he had hung up on Henry without offering any help?

Part 44

I got up and peeked into the storage room, worried I would find Henry slouched down, disheartened by Kojak’s rebuff. Instead, he was standing on a workbench, yip-yipping, which came darn close to a whistle, and rummaging through a toolbox.

“Come on in,” he called out to me and waved me in.

His cheerfulness raised my spirits, and I entered, surprised by what opened up in front of me. “Wow,” I said, “this is more a workshop than a storage room. And it’s huge. I’ve never been in here before.”

“There’s even a cubbyhole attached over there.” Henry pointed to the far end. “It has a cot in it, and it’s where I take my naps.”

“No wonder you didn’t hear me knocking at the window or shouting.” I scrutinized Henry’s face. “Well, what did Kojak say? You look and act as if you got through to him.”

“Sure. He first suggested, though, letting you sweat it out since it was caused by your own foolhardiness, but I reminded him that poor Ludwig is the one who’s taking the brunt of it and that you have already taken your share, too.”

“Thanks for intervening on my part.”

Henry nodded. “Kojak is going to reinstate your tag on your Internet ID account, and then, he’ll try to lift any restrictions on Ludwig’s tag. Right now, I’m getting you set up with a temporary one.”

“Thank you so much, Henry, I knew you would be my lifesaver.”

He pulled a shiny round coin out of the toolbox, and clamping it between two slides on some kind of press, he said, “By the time you get home with this one and get your brother moving, your old tag should be good again for unlimited use.”

“I don’t need to apply for a new one?”

“No, you’ll be all set. But Kojak brought up another potential problem.”

“What the hell did I miss?”

“Well, since Ludwig’s tag is merely corrupted but still working, he might be moving around in India, or he could even have just jumped on a truck or train, and is now far away from his initial point of entry.”

“OMD, that’s so Ludwig, considering his impulsiveness. Are there any other devices I could use, maybe something similar to a GPS?”

“No, it wouldn’t work. It isn’t compatible with the Internet travel. It gives you a route to travel by land, air or water to a destination which you, by yourself, could only reach easily via the Internet.”

“In other words, if Ludwig didn’t stay put, I won’t stand a chance of finding him.”

I slumped down. Having saved Ludwig’s last used India URL as a guarantee of finding him had been for naught.

Part 45

Henry slipped his paw off the coin press and looked at me. “Don’t despair, yet, Hobo,” he said. “Kojak told me that when he taps into your friend’s Internet account, he might be able to trace his whereabouts and find a computer or whatever nearby. He’ll then email you the new URL.”

“That sounds promising. But where exactly would I exit the device? It could be in any hellhole or a place crowded with people.”

“It could have been something just like that where Olaf had sent your friend. You said it was an India URL that didn’t mean a thing to you. Knowing Kojak, he’ll probably select a device in a place where you can easily bug out.”

“Yeah, you’re right. Kojak is a great guy, willing to help me and even going the extra mile despite his misgivings.”

“But listen,” Henry said, “when you’re hunting down Ludwig in India, check now and then at his home to make sure he didn’t find his tag working again and head home. It’ll come up on the Searcher. Unfortunately, there’s often a rather long delay in the automatic transmitting, but you can override it manually. Just tap the ‘current status’ button several times.”

I furrowed my brow. “Things are getting more and more complicated. Every time I figure something out, something new comes along, and I have to fret about it all over again.”

Henry cocked his head. “You’re always on par with any changes in your ventures. When one of your deals doesn’t work out, you always have another one lined up.”

“Not this time. It’ll be different. I’ll take my losses and a long overdue break. I have it already planned, starting with a nice relaxing stay at a resort in India after I find Ludwig, perhaps with some meditation sessions thrown in.”

“Now, we’ll see about that.” Henry grinned. “I’d bet you already have a new business idea buzzing around in your head.”

Henry’s words instantly brought back the prospect of making some kibbles from the import of spices, and perhaps also perfumes, from India, something that had briefly flashed across my mind earlier. Maybe Henry knew me better than I did. But whatever I’d do, it had to wait until I saw Ludwig, safe and sound.

While Henry worked on my temporary tag, I looked around the room, spying for a door leading to the Internet tunnel. When he swapped machines, I asked him about it.

“It’s in the small room where I sleep,” he answered. “I only tell my closest friends about it. From the tunnel side, it’s the second door to the left facing the kiosk. I don’t want other dogs knocking on it for whatever petty reason. If they don’t reach me at the service window, they can wait until I’m available.”

“Thanks for letting me know.”

“I should have told you earlier but never thought about it. I’m sure you would have woken me up banging on it.”

“So, the door in between is a fake one?”

“No, not at all. It belongs to some dog who likes his privacy, so I’m not prying. And you don’t poke your nose in it either.”

“I don’t intend to. Good, though, I’d left the door alone when I was looking for an entrance to your office. I wish someone could organize the doors in a manner that makes sense. Considering all the advanced technology, their chaotic arrangement is just ridiculous.”

“Dangerous, if not life-threatening, would describe it even better. Don’t you ever forget, keep your paws away from any anonymous door.”                        

Part 46

Henry placed the tag into yet another machine. “The tag’s getting its final polish in there,” he said, “and it’ll be ready in just a sec.”

I cocked my head. “I remember Lorelei taking great effort and pride in doing it by paw or mouth, I don’t know how she did it, but it took her some time.”

“Yes, the old-fashioned way. Now it’s all done by machine, and so much faster. See, it’s already finished.”

The tumbling had stopped, and Henry pulled the tag out. “Let me fasten it to your collar, next to your old one. Don’t worry that they might interfere with each other, they won’t.”

Holding my neck still for Henry to snap on the tag, I noticed a computer sitting in the corner of his workbench.

“That computer over there,” I asked, “is it working, and could I leave straight from it to go home?”

“In fact, it is, and yes, you can. But it’s only good for that, for leaving, you cannot arrive from it. So, whenever you come back to visit me, you still have to travel first to the relay station and walk from there over here. Now, let me outfit you with a Searcher. I keep them under the kiosk counter.”

Henry went into the front room, and I heard him opening a drawer and rummaging through it.

“I’ll give you the most powerful one,” he called out to me. “I’m certain it’ll lead you to your friend. Go and fire up the computer, so you won’t lose any more time.”

When I had the computer going, Henry came back with the Searcher and hung it around my neck.

“The cord is retractable,” he said. “You’re familiar with it, aren’t you?”

“Yeah, it worked like a charm on the other Searcher you gave me. It always stayed put where I could easily get to it.”

Henry nodded. “It’s a great invention, especially since a single pull sends it back to your collar and out of the way if you don’t need it.” 

“So, I guess this is it.” I patted Henry on the shoulder. “Thank you once again for all your help.”

“You are very welcome, that’s what I’m here for. Good luck with finding your friend, and try harder to stay out of trouble.”

I flashed the tip of my tongue at him, smiled and turned toward the computer. I entered my Internet ID code together with my home address and held both my tags close to the USB port at the bottom of the monitor. Instantly, I felt the jolt of a successful connection, and the first leg of my mission to rescue Ludwig had started. 

Part 47

The trip home was the usual ride through the wringer. Bushed and groggy, I scrambled to my paws after popping out of the computer. My head bumped into something hard but cushioned, and I yapped. Even before I heard the voice answering my growl, I knew I’d tumbled against my dad’s legs. The smell of his pipe tobacco always gave him away.

“OMG, Hobo? Is that you?” Dad bent down and picked me up. “Where in the world did you come from? We have been looking all over for you.”

While I sat on his lap and enjoyed his petting, he called out to Mom that I had appeared under his desk like magic. Mom came galloping into his office, snatched me away from Dad and checked me out from head to tail, all the while talking a mile a minute about how happy she was to have me back. Each time her hands came close to my collar, I wiggled out of her caress, afraid she’d notice the Searcher or the second tag.

I felt kind of guilty for having tormented my parents by going missing, and I wished they would become more tolerant of my occasional disappearing acts. When Mom had calmed down, Dad suggested we all eat lunch, and on cue, Wylie showed up at the office door. Eying me, he simply gave out a short bark and led the way into the kitchen.

We all filled our stomachs, and then, Wylie and I had our run in the backyard, supervised by Dad. After Dad had lain down for his siesta and Mom had retreated to her office, I finally had a chance to fill Wylie in about my misfortune in Russia.

“Didn’t I tell you it would be trouble?” Wylie smirked at me. “But no, you wouldn’t listen to me. The whole venture was doomed from the beginning.”

“It was nothing but an unfortunate turn of events that brought it all crashing down,” I said. “It was a legal enterprise. I’d jumped in where I saw an opening to fill.”

Wylie shook his head. “As far as we know, the export of caviar, for the most part anyway, is forbidden by people operating in Russia, and it’s supposed to be illegal for people to import wild caviar to the United States, from any country, it doesn’t matter which. Now, how do you deem legal what you were doing?”

“You just said it, twice, people. Here’s the thing. My attorneys Pocket and River Song, who took over the law office from their sister, Ms. Foley Monster who has become a judge at Rainbow Bridge, counseled me about the law. Since we dogs are considered chattel and are denied our own personhood, whatever we do is not subject to the law of the United States or of any other country, and thus, we dogs are exempt from any wrongdoing that constitutes an illegal act for humans. As a result of all this, we can import from another country stuff that falls under an embargo without having to worry about any repercussions.”

“Well, I admit that sounds convincing, but …”

“There’s no but. And we don’t have time for a deep discussion about it. We have to get ready to travel to India as soon as I get Kojak’s email. Let’s see if it came in yet.”

I scurried into the office, with Wylie on my heels, jumped onto the chair and logged onto the computer.

“You’ve got it all wrong again,” Wylie said as he hopped up and down to reach the edge of the desk with his front paws, “you are traveling. I’m not going.”

Part 48

I hit the email icon and turned toward Wylie. “Come on, give me a break. We went over it before. This time, you’re going.”

“Look, what good would it do if I went with you? You have the tool you need to find Ludwig, and I would only be in the way.”

“No, four eyes always see more than two, and you have an eye for detail.”

As Wylie cleared his throat to come up with an answer, I went back to the email account. The note from Kojak hadn’t come in yet.  

“Hold that thought,” I said to Wylie before he even opened his mouth, “I want to send Lily a message. If she has some free time coming up, I want her to meet us in India as soon as Ludwig is with us and out of any danger.”

“You want to do what? It’s not enough for you dragging me into a no-win situation, now you want to lure your own wife into it. You’re something else, you know.”

“Hey, don’t get all upset. I’m thinking of inviting Lily to a luxury resort over there for a short vacation so we can spend some quality time together. I’m sure it would make her happy. This long-distance marriage is for the birds. We haven’t seen each other for a while, and this would be perfect for a romantic and exciting getaway for Lily and me.” 

“Ah, you fooled me. That is a cool plan, and Lily will love it. But it’s also another reason for me to stay home because I would be in the way. You both don’t need a chaperone, and Ludwig will very likely want to head home as soon as he can.”

Ignoring his lame excuse, I composed the email to Lily, briefly explaining the circumstances of my upcoming trip to India and letting her know about the arrangements I’ll be making for both of us over there as soon as I have access to a phone or computer.

After I read what I’d written, I kept my paw hovering over the send button. An image had sprung into my mind. India was so far away, Lily wouldn’t be able to keep track of me. I could leap at the chance over there … visiting a few poodle clubs … what Lily didn’t know wouldn’t hurt me. I pushed the delete button.

“Why did you do that?” Wylie asked. “It was such a sweet note you’d put together.”

“You wouldn’t understand. Let’s forget it. There’s Kojak’s email, it just came in.”

Before I could open it, Wylie interrupted me.

“I saw what you intended to tell Lily, that I would be going with you to India, but what if I get lost on the way?” he said matter-of-factly. “You’d have double the headache you have now.” 

“Running the risk of getting stranded comes with the Internet travel. You just have to find a way out of it if it happens.”

“Does that mean you would let me fight my own battle without your helping me?”

“Nonsense, of course not.” I was reaching the end of my patience with his refusal to travel with me, but then, I remembered my latest resolve. “On second thought, it might be better if you stay home. It would be beneficial to have you here as an intermediary if something does go wrong in India.”

Part 49

Wylie welcomed my change of plans to travel to India without him. “That sounds more logical,” he said. “Whom do I contact in an emergency?”

“Kojak. I hope there’s a return address on his email. But first, let’s see what it says.”

I quickly opened it. Another weird combination of letters and numbers with an in. somewhere in between filled the text box. It was an URL for India.

While I copied it for pasting it into in the address bar as soon as I was ready to leave, Wylie affirmed that Kojak had left a return address. I glanced at it, and deciding it was a legit one, I logged out of the email account. 

“Go back to the email and print the whole thing out after I’ve left,” I said to Wylie, “and hide it where no one else can find it. And email Gato to let her know what’s happening. Then, delete everything.”

“You’re leaving right away? How do you know your tag is already working again? Kojak didn’t mention it. You told me Henry had warned you that the temporary tag would be good for the Internet only for one exit and one entry.”

“I guess sending the email and the URL was his confirmation of it. I just have to believe that. I’m running out of time. You never know when Dad might wake up, and you have to get at it, print out the email and send the other one.”

Wylie made room for me to reach the computer and gave out a deep sigh. “Good luck then, Brother.”

“Thanks, I need it.” I entered the copied India URL in the address bar and scurried under the desk. As always when I was in a hurry, it seemed to be a tighter fit than usual to get close to the USB port.

After turning this way and that way and stooping and stretching, I finally heard one of the tags touch the port. My trip to India had begun without giving me time to agonize about where I would emerge.

Total silence and blackness greeted me when I touched ground. I was sure I had my eyes open but didn’t see a thing, not even a shadow. There was no faint glimmer from the electronic device I’d emerged from, which could have been a smart phone or laptop with the lid shut and on standby mode. I also could have landed quite a bit away from either of them or a computer, bursting out of it but not feeling the impact. I should have felt it, though, because the floor was hard, like concrete or asphalt. 

I blinked several times. It was no use. My eyes still didn’t detect any outlines to drop me a hint about where I was. My nose, however, told me I was someplace fogged up by a potpourri of scents. Most of the smells were new to me, and I couldn’t distinguish the rest as it all blended in.

Without having any references, I blindly staggered ahead and soon bumped into what felt like a wall. I used it as a guide and crept alongside it. The sudden end of it brought me to dead stop. I pricked up my ears and tried to catch a whiff. I didn’t hear anything, and my nose was no help. Veering to the right, I crawled inside the empty space.

Part 50

I noticed the change in the floor the moment I turned the corner. It was now somewhat padded and reminded me of a cheap worn-out doormat. I sniffed at it, but with all the other scents hanging in the air, it just didn’t work. I couldn’t pick up the slightest odor.

With my muzzle down, I inched forward. Something blocked my way, and I pawed at it. It was some kind of container, perhaps made out of straw, and it was rather short in height. I pulled myself up to the top in an attempt to get a lead on where I was.

The rim was narrow and wobbly. Barely able to stand on it, I swayed from side to side, caught myself and then swayed again. Realizing I couldn’t keep my balance, I jumped back down, but disoriented, I went the wrong way.

No more than a step down, my paws hit a soft and springy substance, and I sunk into it. Struggling furiously with all fours, I tried to climb out of it, but with every kick, I tumbled back down. 

Since I wasn’t sinking any deeper, I finally gave up the fight and instead examined what that stuff was that prevented me from standing on my paws. I nosed and scratched at it and decided it was nothing more than a bundle of cloth. I couldn’t make out the material, but it felt smooth and cool on my nose.

With my nerves calmed down, I clambered to my legs, one paw at a time. Doing it at a snail’s pace, I had no problems keeping steady and could even raise my front paws up to the rim of whatever held the slippery textile.

Now knowing I could easily get out, I let go to fall back, dug partly underneath the cloth and curled up. The moment my belly touched the cloth and the cover touched my back, I felt as if the most heavenly fabric had cocooned me. It was the perfect spot to snuggle and wait for someone to use the computer or mobile device left running and who would turn on the lights.

To stay here until then and see where Kojak had sent me was better anyway than to stagger through the utter darkness. I’d lucked out this time, tumbling into paradise. Next time, I might plunge into the devil’s hole.

My interest in figuring out what I’d tumbled into and getting an idea about what this place was had waned. What piqued my curiosity were the copious smells all around it. Some were sweet, others tart and pungent, and others again flowery and earthy.

I inhaled deeply, over and over, trying to isolate any of the scents. It was in vain, and then, without any warning, the fumes overpowered me. They lulled me to sleep, and I slept and slept.

A cacophony of shouts, screams and yells woke me up, and I opened my eyes. I quickly collected my thoughts. Everything was lit up, and I saw I was lying in layers of what looked like silk fabric inside a straw basket. I threw off the cover, and this time, like my squirrel friends, lithe and spry, I rose onto my feet and swung myself over the rim of the basket and started to run.

Shoes, sandals and other weird footwear were all around me, and I slithered away from any step that could squash me. Yeah, so much for Kojak’s concern to have me arrive at a quiet place from where I could easily escape. It was either too dark or too crowded to do me any good.

There was at least a silver lining. I smelled fresh air, though it felt hot and muggy, and I also saw bright daylight coming in. It shouldn’t have surprised me. India was about nine to 10 hours ahead of us at home, so I had to have arrived here in the dead of night and then passed out for who knew how long. 

Still clueless to where I was, I scampered along, breathing in more and more fresh air. The moment I was out in the open, I was all set to break away from the throng of people and find a place to hide, but instead of having thinned out, the crowd had swelled.

Part 51

I zigzagged through people’s legs, putting up with kicks and shoves, and was now aiming for the sound of motor traffic I heard in front of me. If there was a street somewhere, I hoped it would split up this human circus and I would have free rein to orientate myself. 

An empty space opened up straight ahead, and I made a run for it, full speed. The screeching of tires stopped me dead. Stunned, I whirled my head around. An enormous, black mass of rubber, knobby and dented with grooves, almost touched me.

I jumped forward to get away from it, only to set off more tire screeching. Now, gripped by panic, I halted and bolted, and halted and bolted as a symphony of car horns and human shouts blared through the air. 

With my nose pointing down, I staggered along until my head slammed into a skinny pole and put a sudden end to the earsplitting clamor. Out of breath and shaking like an off-balance washing machine, I thought I’d finally found some cover from all the insanity.

When I looked up, my trembling body froze. It was a good thing, or I’d have taken a desperate leap back into the horrific traffic and probably killed myself.

What stared back at me was one big dark eye to my right and an identical one to my left. An even huger snout, halfway open and moving around and around in tandem with two gigantic nostrils, was bending down my way. It was coming closer and closer, and my brain told me to run, but I couldn’t move. 

Alien slobber was already drenching my beard. In a matter of seconds, sharp teeth would gore my muzzle and crush my jaw.

The onslaught on my body never came. Instead, a firm but gentle bump yanked me out of my petrified trance, and I made the connection between India and the country’s venerated cow population.

The monster that I’d thought would eat me alive was a cow. I took a step backward and observed her. She was watching me also but didn’t say a word and chewed relentlessly on something.

“You’re eating grass?” I finally asked. “Where did you get it from? There’s nothing here.”

Taking a break from her chewing, she answered, “It’s some older stuff I’ve already eaten, I don’t know how many times. It lingers somewhere in my stomach, and I just burp it back up.”

I almost gagged. “That’s kind of gross, isn’t it?”

“If you say so, I don’t know any better. And what about you? Are you suicidal?”


“I was watching you crossing the road. It was the most fur-raising performance I’ve ever seen.”

“That’s when your food came back up?”

“I don’t know. I’ve never given it any thought how it happens. It’s just what I do, chew and chew, whatever comes up.”

I ogled the cow. “What are you doing here anyway, in the streets, surrounded by traffic and all those people stomping around and talking like maniacs?”

“There are hardly any people here where I’m at.”

“I mean over there.” I pointed with my eyes. “On the other side of the road where I came from.”

“You mean at the bazaar? They are just haggling, trying to outfox each other.”

“So, that what it is, a bazaar.” I kept my eyes on it. Was that the place where I should look for Ludwig? But what in the world would he be doing in a bazaar? Could Kojak have made a mistake with tracking Ludwig’s tag and sent me to a wrong URL?

Part 52

I asked the cow again, “So, what are you doing here?” 

“Just hanging out,” she replied. “You know, the people treat us cows here with respect and good will. I can go wherever I want to go.”

Her blasé attitude was laudable, but I’d rather have been clear of all the traffic. I hopped onto the sidewalk and said, “Have you been standing here for a while?”

The cow twisted around and ungainly climbed the baby step of the sidewalk. Facing me, she squinted and said, “Not for that long. I meander all over the place. Why? You aren’t a scout to those people who like to haul us cows off to greener pastures, are you?”

“What would be wrong with having fresh grass to nibble on? Never mind, I’ve no idea what you’re talking about. I just want to know if by any chance you’ve seen a dog resembling me around here somewhere.”

Almost knocking me over, the cow shook her head. “I usually don’t pay attention to anything, except if something exciting happens.”

What a boring life, I was thinking, but her lack of interest might be to my advantage. I pulled down the Searcher from my collar, and as I had hoped, the cow didn’t even blink and instead started to chew again.

In case she would become curious, I turned away from her, powered up the Searcher and dialed in Ludwig’s Internet ID number. Instantly, I heard a faint beep and another one several seconds later. Wow, Kojak did know what he was doing.

I moved closer to the curb and pointed the Searcher toward the bazaar. The beeps remained at a low volume but became sharper and a tad less far apart. Somehow, I had to get back across the street.

Looking right and left, I stepped off the sidewalk. A truck, loaded like a tower with whatever one could only dream up, whizzed by me, and I jumped backward onto the curb.

“You don’t want to cross the road again, do you?” the cow asked.

I turned around and looked at her. “Well, well, you do pay attention after all.”

“I told you, if something exciting happens. Whatever this annoying beeping noise is, it’s alerting me.”

“You can hear that?” I switched the Searcher off to conserve the battery. “It’s supposed to be extremely high-pitched and audible only to us dogs and our kitty friends.”

“We cows have very good hearing. Are you sure you’re not working as an outpost for the cow stewards? Maybe they have wired you with some electronics and are closing in on me now.”

“No, the signal you heard came from my own device, and the dog I asked you about is sending it. He is my friend and got lost. I need to go back to the bazaar. He might be over there.”

Part 53

My explanation, short and sweet, was good enough for the cow. Without hesitation, she took my word for what the funny noise she’d heard was about and said, “In that case, let me help you across the street.”

I stretched my neck to meet her eyes. “You would do that for me, putting yourself in danger? You even don’t know me.”

“Nobody would dare to hit a cow here. Cars and everything else will stop for me or at least make a circle around me.”

“But it would still be a hassle for you.”

“It’s no big deal. I don’t have anything else to do. And it’s better for me to see you alive on either side of the street than dead in the middle of it. Nobody here takes care of roadkill, so I would have to move away from here anyway to keep my day pleasant.”

What a macabre reason for giving a helping hoof. I searched the cow’s face for mockery but didn’t see a smirk or a twinkle in her eye. She must have been serious.

Lumbering, the cow shifted her body sideways to face the curb. “Step underneath me and stay there when I cross the street. I’ll take my time, so you shouldn’t have any problems walking in sync with me.”

I positioned myself between her front legs. If someone rammed the cow, I would at least have a chance to bolt straight ahead before she’d collapse on top of me. Out of the corner of each eye, I watched her right and left leg for an awkward step down the curb. I had to match each one to remain under her protection.

Her legs did not move. I waited and waited, but the cow remained rooted to the spot, not even wiggling her body. I started to wonder if she’d wised up and decided a strange dog wasn’t worth fighting the traffic for.

Then, with a sudden jerk, she lifted her right hoof and thumped it down on the street pavement, only to follow up instantly with the left hoof. Thrown off balance, I staggered around, tripping on the curb while the cow stepped down from it with her rear legs and stomped ahead into the jumble of motorized and non-motorized vehicles.

Without taking time to scream at her to wait, I jumped back to my paws and moved like a drunk underneath her belly along with her. Tires and wheels of all shapes and sizes appeared and disappeared around me but never even came close enough to raise my fur. There was neither a honking of car horns nor an outburst of people’s gripes.

Just when I got into the rhythm of her walk, she made a left turn. Would she have had some sway in her gait, I would have missed her turning and would have drifted off from under her safe haven straight into the lion’s den.

Cars and everything else were passing us now on both sides, some whooshing by, others laboring to get in front of us. Still, nobody complained about the cow’s dawdling along, one hoof at a time, or tried to chase her off the street.

Nevertheless, it was a nerve-racking task for me to keep up with her without straying to my right or left. One misstep, and …

Part 54

I planted my paws on the asphalt. The cow had suddenly come to a standstill, and I’d almost skidded ahead of her through her front legs. A second later, one of her hooves kicked me in the hip as she continued her stroll, moving slightly toward the right.

Tottering underneath her, I followed her lead until she stopped again, this time deliberately. I lifted my head and saw the curb of a sidewalk in front of my eyes and emitted a sigh of relief. I’d be out of harm’s way the moment the cow would climb onto the sidewalk.

She didn’t. She stood there motionless, just like she’d done before we started our journey across the road.

What the heck was she up to? This place didn’t even resemble or sound like the open-air mass of people I took off from. Fear of the cow’s merely taking a break from the odyssey gripped me.

Her moo came out of the blue. It was plangent but short. Thinking she got hit by a car, I leaped onto the sidewalk.

“There you go,” she said. “Why the long wait?”

“Geez,” I said, giving myself a good shake. “I thought you’d rather see me alive. You almost gave me a heart attack … I was waiting for you to get up here.”

“Nah, I stay where I am. See how high this curb is? I don’t want to go through the trouble of climbing it up and down.”

“So, you’d rather sit in the middle of the traffic?”

“Why not? Nobody will bother me. And there isn’t that much traffic here. I chose the place over here to let you go, away from the bazaar’s main entrance and all the commotion that comes with it. It’ll be easier for you to find your way around.”

“That was very thoughtful of you. Thank you.”

“Anytime.” The cow flipped her head over her shoulder. “If you’ll take the side street over there, you’ll be able to access the bazaar from the back. There’s always one door or another ajar you can squeeze through. I couldn’t fit through any of them, but you can, even without the vendors noticing you.”

Knitting my brow, I looked the cow in the eye. “I wish I could do something for you in return for your helping me instead of just saying thank you again.”

“Nah, there’s nothing to it. I told you, I don’t have anything else to do.”

With that, the cow lay down and started to chew, staring into the traffic. I watched her a few minutes before I walked off toward the bazaar the way she had pointed out.

What an unusual character the cow was. I wished I could give her a truckload of freshly cut grass as a gift. And who knew, if I gained a pawhold into trading spices and perfume or whatever with India and collected a slew of kibbles, I might be able to do it. Then again, how would I ever be able to get in touch with her later on?

I brushed the thought aside. Right now, my priority was to find Ludwig. I retrieved the Searcher and turned it back on. The signal came in loud and clear as I approached the bazaar. Almost with every second step, the beeps followed each other closer, and I quickened my trot. The bazaar was it. Ludwig had to be somewhere inside or outside of it.

Part 55

I was ready to jump into the air with a howling hooray, but considering all the setbacks I had, I didn’t want to jinx Ludwig’s and my reunion. Besides, I still had quite an ordeal ahead of me. I had to single him out among all those people trampling along or standing around and to push through to him. I turned the Searcher off and gave it a pull to return it to my collar.

When I reached the corner, the bazaar came into sight. It was huge, not in height, but in length. The building appeared to cover almost a city block, and I knew there was more of it outside where the entrance was.

Cars, trucks, carts, bicycles and whatever else had wheels haphazardly filled up the area adjacent to the building. At the faraway end in the corner opposite the building, I could make out a couple of horses, standing next to a tree as if waiting for no one in particular.

I trotted to the building and alongside it, looking for the doors the cow had talked about. There were none. All I saw were roll up doors in the width of a two-car garage. About halfway to the end, I finally came to a regular door, but it was shut and locked with a bulky padlock.

I stopped, stepped backward several feet and scanned the back wall of the building. There were only wide door openings closed by rolling doors. I was ready to blame the cow for not knowing what she’d talked about, when something caught my eye.

Underneath one of the rolling doors was a gap. I sprinted to it. Yes, the door was hanging above the ground. That was what the cow had meant with being ajar. I might have already passed some others like this, but fixated on finding a side door, I had failed to pay attention to the overhead ones. 

I assumed the door was heavy, even too heavy for the cow to lift up with her nose. That must have been why she’d said she couldn’t fit through it. Her remark should have made me ask questions. She could have easily nosed open a side door all the way, and while she was a heavy girl, she wasn’t overweight and should have been able to walk through a regular doorway.

I squeezed through the shallow opening. There were no lights on, but the small crack behind me let in enough daylight for me to see where I was. I had been afraid I’d enter directly into a vendor’s stall, albeit at the back, crammed with people upfront.

Instead, I found myself inside a big storage unit. A long corridor, lined right and left with stalls partitioned by iron bars and padlocked, was stretching out straight ahead toward what looked like a double door. Each stall contained some kind of merchandise, some things tossed in, others organized.

Without bothering to get a closer look of what they were, I trotted toward the end of the corridor. It was a double door I’d seen, and I pulled down the Searcher, turned it on and held it snug against it.

What the heck? I heard one beep, and then nothing. I waited, but the Searcher didn’t emit another signal. Although Henry had emphasized how powerful the device he’d given me was, I wondered if the door was interfering with the reception.

Hoping nobody would come bursting into the storage unit, I crouched down and pointed the Searcher at the barely noticeable clearance between the door and the floor. Again, I only heard one beep. No, Ludwig was not inside the bazaar, and I had been so sure of it.

If he wasn’t there, he had to be somewhere outside, maybe at the front of the building. Even if I could open the double door to take the shortcut through the bazaar, a better option was to go around outside the building and avoid the crowd inside.

Part 56

I jumped to my paws and backtracked along the corridor. The Searcher, dangling under my neck, emitted regular beeps at shorter and shorter intervals. 

A sudden thought hit me a few feet away from the roll-up door, and I dived underneath it and into the open. What if Ludwig had become the victim of abuse, chained down at the tree where the horses were?

I pawed at the Searcher, almost ripping it off my collar, and pointed it toward them. It returned an instant beep. I held my breath. It took almost two minutes before the second beep came on, too long for a close-up signal from Ludwig’s tag.

Breathing normally again, I turned sideways toward the end of the building. The signals picked up again, one after another. I turned the Searcher off and trotted alongside the building to the corner again.

I wasn’t surprised by the whiff of humans that entered my nose as I came closer, knowing about the hordes of people at the front of the bazaar. The screams of children marching around the corner before I reached it, however, knocked me off my paws.

I leaped backward. Five boys, about 9 or 10 years old, stopped the moment they saw me, and their screams died. Unnerved by their wild stares, I backed up some more.

They had to be accustomed to seeing stray dogs, I was certain about that, and I couldn’t have been a novelty to them. Even though I had a more polished appearance than a street dog, it didn’t merit their eyes being ready for the kill.

Just as one gang member approached me, I understood. The Searcher was still dangling down my neck. I’d forgotten to let it snap back to my collar, and those punks were out to get it. They had instantly recognized it for what it was, an electronic device, but couldn’t have even imagined that is was nothing but a piece of crap for humans.

Like a rattlesnake flicking its tongue, the goon thrust out his hand at me, again and again. I bared my teeth and snarled. He remained unperturbed, keeping up with what he was doing, his dirty little fingers reaching for my neck. 

Before I had time to turn around and run, a second goon had come forward and tried to pin me down. With out-stretched arms, they both danced around me, the tips of their fingers striking my fur.

Still snarling, I now bit at them, but they were on their toes and dodged each single attempt I made to stab them with my teeth. Somehow, I had to get away before the other three bastards, who were cheering on their cronies, joined in the attack. I raised my head and let out a bone-chilling howl.

Caught off guard, the two attackers halted their merry-go-round. I pivoted and raced toward the parked vehicles. Yells and the thud, thud, thud of footsteps followed me. I ducked under the first car and crawled as fast as I could from vehicle to vehicle.

When the noise of feet trampling ebbed, I took a break just long enough to give the Searcher a swift pull to hide it at my collar. If the bastards caught sight of me but didn’t see the Searcher any more, they might comb the parking lot for it instead of chasing me.

Part 57

The sedans and some pickup trucks gave me enough cover to escape underneath, but other four-wheelers were standing on their tires high above the ground and left me exposed as an easy target. Unfortunately, there were many of them.

So far, I was able to outrun those punks, being a better crawler and able to get through the tighter spaces. But to lose them for good, I had to outsmart them. They might have already split up, and some of them might be waiting at the end of the parking area I was heading to.

The moment I heard them cursing behind me again, I aimed for a low-sitting car and scooted underneath. Out-of-reach, I twisted around and slithered under scantier and scantier cover in the direction I’d come from. 

Once I made it to the last one of the parked vehicles, I bolted, not looking back or even listening for footsteps following me. I raced through streets, back alleys and yards, jumping over fences and careening around whatever was in my way.

I had to take a breather at a Dumpster. It hadn’t been of my own free will, but there was no way to climb over it, and I couldn’t go around it either. I’d arrived at a cul-de-sac, closed off by a wall, even higher than the monstrous garbage container. 

Afraid the dead-end would become the road of no return if those punks had seen me escape and followed me, I squeezed underneath the Dumpster to its farthest corner and waited.

Not hearing anything and smelling only garbage but no humans, I crept out of my hiding hole after a few minutes. The street looked deserted, and except for a shed and a silo standing side by side, there were no other buildings around.

I sniffed again several times and still didn’t pick up any human odor. On the double, I rushed out of the blind alley, watching like a hawk what might be coming toward me.

Unharmed, I reached the end, which forked off to the right and left. I pulled out the Searcher, turned it on and pointed it in each direction without getting any signals.

It remained silent even after I took a few steps each way, and I had completely lost my bearings as to where I was in relation to the bazaar. The only thing I knew was that I had to be far away from it for the Searcher to let me down.

OMD, what if Ludwig was on the move? I refused to believe he’d merely passed through the bazaar earlier because I’d tracked him all afternoon. Now it started to get dark, and if Ludwig had hooked up with one of the outdoor vendors who would be heading home for the night, he might be too.

I had to hurry back to the bazaar before I’d lose Ludwig’s paw marks but was incapable of recalling which way I’d come earlier. No matter how hard I made my brain work, it was a futile effort. Going by trial and error was the only option I had.

I chose the right fork. It was slow going because I had to be on the lookout with my eyes and ears for any of the five kid gangsters while at the same time listening to the Searcher. It continued to remain silent.

After walking a bit longer, I stopped and cussed. I’d missed the telltale sign of being on the wrong track. I was coming up on a residential neighborhood. As far as the eye could see, there were only small houses with front yards all around me and not even a blur in the distance of a busy commercial center where the bazaar was.

Part 58

I swung around, scurried back to the intersection and took the other fork. Again on high alert, I scanned the path ahead of me for my attackers. The narrow street lined with shrubs and trees on both sides could become a deadly trap for me.

Sneaking along in order to listen to the Searcher and to any sounds coming from humans wasn’t the answer here. I turned off the Searcher, sent it back to my collar and barreled along until the scenery changed.

With the danger of running the gantlet gone, I slowed down. The shoulder to my right and left had turned from lush greenery into sun-baked soil. About 1,000 feet onward, it was leading to a highway where traffic was moving on and off. 

I observed the traffic as I came closer to the intersection. It was heavier in one direction than in the other and consisted of the same colorful mix of vehicles I’d seen before. People were probably leaving the hustle and bustle for the day, which I hoped included the bazaar. It was the way I had to go.

By chance, I’d reached the side of the highway with hardly any traffic, perhaps a few partygoers for a night on the town, and I walked alongside the road. Ahead of me, the scenery changed again, and huge buildings filled the landscape. They’d already taken on the form of shadowy ghosts with the rapidly falling night.

While I was confident I was on the right track, I was running short on time. I stopped and jerked down the Searcher. Instead of staying put, it recoiled when I let go. I snatched it again, but before I could turn it on, it slipped out of my paw and sprung again back to my collar. What the heck was wrong with it?

Taking a deep breath to calm myself, I gave it a third try, pulling the Searcher down inch by inch and making sure it stayed down before I let go. This time, it did, and I turned it on.

After a few seconds, it sent out a click, click, click. It wasn’t what I wanted to hear, but at least, it was better than no sound at all. I started walking again, faster and faster, but the signal remained the same. What the hell was wrong now?

I almost stumbled over my own legs. Due to an ominous brainstorm of mine, things had just turned from bad to almost hopeless. I sat down to sift through it.

What if those bastards who had attacked me had mugged Ludwig for his golden collar and ripped it off? The first thing they would have done was tear off the tag because it would have been in the way if they were going to sell the collar, and I was sure that would have been their intentions. They would have tossed the tag away, and it could have landed in a heap of dirt or garbage and was now producing those funny clicks instead of the distinctive beeps.

And that was not all. I’d also taken Wylie’s concern about my tag very seriously even though I’d brushed it off. Having used up the two available options the temporary tag had offered me, I was well aware of the potential booby trap I’d set for myself. So, if push came to shove and my own tag didn’t work, I could have always ridden piggyback with Ludwig to get home. But now, assumed I found Ludwig and he had lost his collar and tag, then, we both … no, I even didn’t want to go there.

Part 59

I was still convinced Ludwig was somewhere around the bazaar since the Searcher had been sending out precise beeps in its vicinity on and off during the day. As soon as I found Ludwig, with or without his tag, I had to have a talk with him about his collar. It was more than stupid to have his tag attached to such a tempting piece of jewelry, making it child’s play for those greedy humans to tear it off. I’d never thought about it, and I should have. I knew the collar meant a lot to Ludwig, but maybe he could wear it, doubled over, around one of his legs.

I jumped up and continued moving along. The last of the daylight had drained away, and the traffic on the other side coming toward me had thinned out to almost nothing. At the same time, nightlife in the city started to take shape. The streetlights and illuminated window dressings became brighter and brighter, casting silhouettes of one big building after another. 

The Searcher continued its click, click, click, and it got on my nerves. I stopped at the first lit-up store window to check if something was wrong with the device.

The moment I pulled it down, I saw a red light. With each click, it blinked from the top of the button Henry had advised me to push several times to make certain Ludwig hadn’t already turned up at home. I must have accidentally done it when the Searcher had kept on recoiling. I had been so sure of having traced down Ludwig that I hadn’t had a reason to fool around with that button. 

Recalling that Henry had said that Ludwig’s arrival at home would come up on the Searcher, I examined the light closer, and ta-da. My admiration for my fellow dogs just rose a notch higher. Instead of following the human trend of using confusing signs for their communications, the dogs in charge of the Searcher’s design had placed a distinct ‘no’ inside the blinking light.

I punched the button, and the light went off, and so did the clicking noise. A few seconds later, the Searcher gave out a beep. It was a weight off my shoulder, and tentatively, I took several steps along the storefronts.

Yes, there was another beep, and another one. I now hightailed it, and the pauses between the signals became shorter and shorter.

When I spotted a few party revelers heading in my direction, I ducked into an entryway, sent the Searcher to my collar and, keeping my distance, slunk past them. They kept on walking and laughing and didn’t pay any attention to me. Neither did some other night owls I passed along the street leading to an intersection.

The closer I came to it, the more beeps the Searcher gave out, and reaching the corner, I saw the bazaar to my right at the next block. I raced toward it, but barely halfway, the Searcher’s signal already became a string of beeps.

Puzzled, I put on the breaks and looked up at the storefront. It was a restaurant, its light turned down to only illuminate the menu placed in the window for future patrons. I backtracked a few steps and spotted a narrow passage between the restaurant and the building next-door.

Part 60

The passageway was dark, but a dim light shone from what I assumed was the restaurant’s backdoor. I crept toward it until my eyes caught a sparkle. As if on cue, the Searcher’s signals turned into music to my ears, into one constant beep.

And then, I saw him. The light from the outdoor lamp above the door reflected on his golden collar. Ludwig, his left rear leg lifted, was standing at a bush peeing. 

I watched him but couldn’t restrain myself to wait until he finished his business. Overcome with happiness, I hollered, “Hey buddy, what are you doing here?”

Ludwig stopped in mid-stream, his leg still raised. Cocking his head, he slowly put his paw on the ground, and his tail started to wag, faster and faster.

“What does it look like?” he said and spun around.

I gave out a chuckle. “Like watering the plants. No, I mean what are you doing here at a restaurant?”

Neither of us dwelled on the answer, and we lunged forward, knocked each other down and hugged. In no time, our embrace turned into a scoreless wrestling match.

Clambering back to his feet and panting, Ludwig said, “I’d never have expected to see you here. Now, my question is, what are you doing here, in India from all places in the world?”

I sat up, also trying to catch my breath. “Looking for you, what else?”

“But how in the whole world did you find me here?”

“It wasn’t easy. Partly with the Searcher.”

“Ha, the Searcher.” Ludwig poked with his nose around my collar. “You tracked me down with one of those things once before.”

“But this time, Kojak had the biggest paw in my finding you. Without him, I don’t know what I could have done and what would have happened to you.”

“I’m surely glad you both put your heads and paws together to find me. Life here isn’t bad, but I’m growing more and more eager to get back home.”

I looked Ludwig up and down. “I was sure you’d be hanging out at the bazaar, not in a back alley.”

“You almost nailed it. I am staying with a guy here at the restaurant but went with him to the bazaar a couple of times. It’s just a few jumps from here.”

“That’s why the signals from the Searcher were so erratic. It drove me nuts.”

Ludwig’s eyebrows rose. “But in the end, it did its job. It’s a great tracking device if you have a starting point nearby. So, how were you and Kojak even able to dig out India and then zoom in on to this neck of the woods?”

I told Ludwig in a nutshell what all had happened after he had left for Russia and blasted Olaf for the intrigues he had played on both of us.

Part 61

Ludwig listened with his mouth half opened to my report on Olaf. “That dog is something else,” he said as soon as I’d finished. “Good thing, I did take off right away.”

“Yeah, it turned out you were better off here than you would have been in Russia … you didn’t get hurt here in any way, did you?”

“Let’s move over there to the door, I’m supposed to watch it, and I’ll tell you all about what happened to me.”

“You have to stay outside during the night?” My jaw dropped.

Ludwig shook his head. “The door doesn’t close right, that’s why I’m on guard duty. I can stay inside or outside, whichever I like better.”

“That sounds more like it. You do have a knack for running into people who always treat you civilly and even accommodate you. I usually bump into the bad guys.”

“I just know better how to pick ‘em.” Ludwig grinned at me.

I nudged him, and we walked over to the doormat. It resembled more a rug than a mat, and we both had enough room to stretch out.

Shifting his eyes back and forth from me to the dark alley, Ludwig said, “You know all about the shots fired at the Russian warehouse. I heard them the second I’d arrived there and couldn’t get back the way I’d come fast enough. I got out unharmed, but then, I exited a computer into a room full of people. They were sitting at some kind of machines emitting a rattle-rattle-rattle without end, and I knew I was somewhere where I didn’t want to be either. I thought I’d made a typo in my home address when I entered it into the computer to leave …”

“Hold on just a second,” I said. “Not that it would have mattered since your Internet account was compromised, but you are familiar with the instant return feature of our tags, aren’t you?”

Ludwig nodded. “By the time I’d thought of it, I’d already arrived at the other computer, and all it would have done would have been to send me back to the shooting gallery in Russia. It was dumb luck that the computer I’d exited from was unattended, and I quietly hopped to the keyboard, punched in my home address and made sure I had it right this time, jumped down to the USB port and took off instantly. Then, to my utter surprise, I ended up again in the same place and even at the same computer I’d just left.”

“Whoa, the hacker Olaf had praised so highly must not have been so competent after all. Olaf told me what he’d done would send you all over the country every time you use your tag to make sure you would get lost and stay lost.”

“Oh dog, that would have been an even worse disaster. This way, I at least had a chance to get somewhat accustomed to wherever I was. You think the hacker might have screwed up on purpose? That’s why he didn’t send me to the boondocks and instead to such a busy place where people would take pity on me?”

I shrugged my shoulders. “Maybe the hacker had a spark of decency in his body. Olaf surely bragged about him and his feat in making you disappear. Amazing that no one in the room saw you at the computer.”

Part 62

Ludwig’s eyes narrowed. “Everybody in that room was concentrating so darned hard on the work. I watched what they were doing and knew I was in a garment factory, and people were sewing as if the devil were standing behind them prodding them to work faster and faster. I never saw them looking up.”

I whistled softly. “At least it gave you some leeway in your hassle to get out of there. How many times did you try it?”

“After I had no luck reaching home from the same computer for a second time, I spied another computer at the other end of the room. I sneaked to it, only to get the same result. I tried it two or three more times and then quit.”

“You never had a suspicion that your tag had gone bad?”

“How? Nobody could have tampered with it, and it never entered my mind that there could have been a bug in my Internet ID account. I thought the computers in the factory were malfunctioning.”

“So, you left the factory and went looking for another computer or a cell phone?”

“That was my intention. It wasn’t easy, though, to get out of the factory. The single door was not only closed, but locked … from the outside.”

“You can’t be serious.” A quiver ran through my body. “They lock people into a place that could easily catch on fire, with all the cloth and whatever they have in there? And with only one door?”

Ludwig heaved a sigh. “Exactly. If someone needed to go out—by the way, there were only women inside the sewing room—she had to bang on the door several times, and eventually, you would hear someone inserting a key from the outside and opening the door for her while spewing out a barrage of words, words completely foreign to me. That’s when I realized I had again wound up in a country I didn’t know anything about.”

“I guess there was no hope of your finding a cell phone on one of those women in there, locked up like wild animals.” A quiver hit me again.

“No, and it surprised me that they had computers in the room, at least the two I used. But then I thought they would need a computer system for record keeping and it required a password for access to the Internet. That was also another reason why I blamed the computers that I always returned to the same place.”

“How did you finally find your way out of there?”

“Well, after I saw how it worked, I was ready to wait for another woman asking to be let out and then make my escape. But suddenly, I heard a key turn without anybody coming forward, and I quickly hid behind a storage box next to the door. When it opened, I pushed through it, ramming legs and hearing screams, but nothing stopped me, and I just ran and ran.”

A distant clamor sent us to our paws, and with our ears erect, we listened to the sound coming from the main street. As it became louder, we nodded to each other and waited.

Part 63

Ludwig and I had been on the same wavelength which proved to be correct. It didn’t take long for a couple of merrymakers to pass the storefront, and we put our paws back up. 

“I could tell right away that they were harmless partygoers because of all the uproar they were making,” Ludwig said.

I nodded. “I ran across some folks like that earlier. What would you do if some of them show their faces here and harbor ulterior motives?”

“First, bark up a storm to wake the owner. After that, I don’t know. What would you do?”

“It depends on what the guy would do,” I said. “If he comes staggering out of bed wielding a gun and shooting, I’d hide before he shoots me in the dark. But if he tries to clobber any intruders with one of those ridiculous weapons like a golf club, I’ll definitely jump into the fight and help him out.”

Ludwig cocked his head. “That sounds like a plan, especially now that I’d have your back.”

“Let’s hope it won’t come to that. So, you said you bolted from that sewing place. You made it to here all the way by foot? It must have been quite a long run. This neighborhood seems to be a commercial area, not an industrial one where a factory would be.”

“It’s not that far away,” Ludwig said, his voice turning hoarse and muffled, “but I did get a ride … on a donkey cart.”

I knitted my brow to look serious. “Don’t tell me you’ve now become enamored with a donkey, ready to adopt him or her?”

Ludwig snarled. “You won’t let me live it down that I fell for Gato, will you?”

“Just kidding. Gato is special to us both, and she definitely deserves the home she got, with you and your parents. And it only happened because of you. But tell me about your ride over here.”

“Well, as luck would have it, I’d chosen the right direction to take off. I came to a busy street with loaded trucks and pickups, cars with their trunks open and full of stuff, all heading one way. There were even bicycles pulling carts jam-packed, you wouldn’t believe it, and piled up so high I wouldn’t have found room on top of it if I wanted to.”

“I’ve seen some of those weird creations moving along the street, too. People here do show ingenuity.”     

Ludwig chuckled. “Yeah, I’ll give ‘em that, but it didn’t help me any. Then, a cart pulled by a donkey passed me and caught my attention. I followed it but had a hard time keeping up. I’d been running for so long and desperately needed a break.”

Part 64

I felt for my friend having had to run until he was exhausted, but something baffled me, and I asked him about it. “Why didn’t you catch a pick-up truck and jump into its bed? There should have been some room left for you, at least in the bigger ones.”

Ludwig cracked a half-smile. “No way, they were going too fast. And I’ve never been into chasing cars. Anyway, the donkey had gotten far ahead of me but had stopped at the side of the road. By the time I reached him, he pulled his head out of a small bucket of water his owner must have placed in front of him and motioned me to come to him and finish up the water.”

“You know,” I said, “it wouldn’t surprise me if the donkey decided to stop because he became aware of your distress.”

“You’re right, he mentioned it later. Now he told me they were in a hurry to get to the market where they would sell the blankets they had in their cart and asked if I wanted to jump on top of them for a comfortable ride.”

I pulled up my eyelids. “What about the owner? He didn’t make a fuss about getting the blankets dirty with dog hair?”

“Nah, they were covered up with plastic. The owner didn’t mind me at all. In fact, he liked the idea of having me as a guard for his merchandise, also something the donkey related to me later.”

“How come you moved here to the restaurant then instead of staying with the market vendor?”

Ludwig flattened his lips before answering. “He sold me to the restaurant owner as a guard dog.”

“You let him sell you?” My fur bristled.

“There was nothing I could do, and it really benefited the donkey. He had insisted on sharing his already rationed chow with me. His owner was barely able to support them both, and I had become an extra burden, especially for the donkey.”

Still aghast about people having treated my friend like a commodity, I said, “I hope the guy turned a good profit on you.”

“I would say so. I don’t know on how much they agreed, but I saw the donkey owner smile. The donkey, on the other hand, was sad to see me go.”

“I’m sure you two had already become friends. You’re good at forming friendships, no matter with whom. But let me tell you, I made a new friend, too,” and I told Ludwig about the cow I had run across.

Part 65

Ludwig gave me a slap on the back. “That’s quite a coincidence we both find someone who’s willing to stick up for us without asking questions, almost at the same time.”

I raised my paw for a high five. “It’s happening, Ludwig, just how Henry encouraged me to keep pursuing only a few hours ago. You remember Henry, don’t you?”

“The kiosk attendant, right? I’ve never met him, but you told me a lot about him.”

“He egged me on not to lose sight of us making the world a better place. And we’re surely on the way to it. You encountered the donkey and I the cow. Both were complete strangers and had no incentive or reason to help us out—in fact, the donkey was worse off sharing with you—and they did it anyway. And not for our survival, but to make life easier for us.”

“Yeah, we dogs have always supported and helped each other, no matter what, and then, the cats came into play, and we all are really pulling together. And now, this is another big step forward.”

“If some more … who knows who else might share our cause, we’ll have a good base to work with and build up, and we’ll have a fighting chance to make a difference in the world.”

Ludwig frowned. “Do you think there’s also a chance some of the errant souls might shed their destructive human-like behavior and find their way back to our mission?”

“I’m afraid Olaf is a lost cause, but you never know. They might all come to their senses and swear off those human character flaws which they’d allowed to seep into their own brains.”

My answer made me think of atrocities done by humans. It brought back the image of the horses I saw behind the bazaar, and I asked Ludwig if his donkey friend had to stay there too, tied down in the heat and humidity, day in, day out.

Ludwig shook his head. “The vendor doesn’t have a stall at the bazaar. He’s moving from market to market to sell his merchandise and does it straight off his cart. The donkey always stays by his side.”

“Seems like the guy takes care of his partner,” I said, closing my eyes for a minute. “And if he hadn’t sold you, I might not have found you, even with the Searcher. So, maybe it was a good thing, but dog, it sounds awful, us pets amounting to nothing more than a piece of property.”

“That’s always our dilemma. We get pushed into a corner, and then our best intentions to stand up for ourselves are going down the drain. If I stayed with the vendor, I wouldn’t have had a chance to try my tag again because he didn’t have any electronic device. But the restaurant has a computer, and the owner has a smart phone and a laptop.”

“I know you couldn’t have done anything other than comply. And running away would have made things even worse for you. What happened when you tried to use your tag here to get home?”

Part 66

Ludwig sucked in air and slowly let it out. “I first tried the computer and the laptop and then the smart phone after I finally got hold of it. And each time, the same flop that happened at the garment factory happened here too. I arrived at the exact place from where I left a minute ago. So, I gave up trying.”

I cocked my head. “I hope you hadn’t resigned yourself to staying here for good, had you?”

“For goodness sake, no. I’d planned on sending Gato a SOS email the next time I got my paws on the computer, and to you, too. I was sure you would move heaven and earth to get me out of here once you knew where I was.”

“You’re damn right, and that was exactly what Kojak and I did. But if we’d gotten word about your temporary refuge, it would have made it a lot easier.”

Scrutinizing me, Ludwig said, “You must be completely worn-out looking for me all this time. Let’s go into the kitchen to find you something to eat and drink.”

“What about your guarding the door?”

“We’ll keep our ears open inside. With the two of us, we’ll hear if someone tries to do something funny.”

“But what about the restaurant owner?”

“He’s already asleep. And the good thing is, he always leaves the light on in the kitchen when he closes down around midnight or so. He says it keeps the creepy crawlers and varmints away.”

Ludwig jumped up, and giving the back door a shove, he led the way through a dark hallway to a brightly lit room behind a swinging door. He pointed to the water bowl, and while I was taking a drink, he opened one of the kitchen cabinets and pulled out some flat bread and roasted peanuts.

“That’s the best I can come up with,” he said. “All the good chow is in the refrigerators, and you know what a pain it is trying to open those doors, pretty much impossible.”

“Don’t worry about it. Henry fed me more than well when I stopped at his kiosk, and I also had a light lunch with the family at home before I set off for India.”

“Lunch?” Ludwig frowned. “But when? How many hours ago?”

I quickly did the math. “About 24. I arrived here in the middle of the night, fell asleep and didn’t wake up until about noon when the ruckus at the bazaar started. And it took me the rest of the day to find you.”

Ludwig watched me eat. “Too bad I can’t offer you some of the owner’s specialties. He’s an excellent cook, and the restaurant is always packed, at least in the short time I’ve been here.”

I swallowed the last peanut. “He does the cooking all by himself?”

“He has one or two assistants, but he’s the chef. He gave me several bites of the food he serves, and it was delicious. Kind of spicy, but not fiery.”

“He must like you to let you taste it. I’d say you’ve won him over already. It shouldn’t be a problem for us then to get to the computer and out of here, right?” I meant it as a rhetoric question and was surprised when Ludwig shook his head.

Part 67

I had counted on smooth sailing from now on since the cards were finally stacked in our favor. With a sinking feeling, I asked, “There is a minor glitch?”

“I wish it would be,” Ludwig said, “but there are major hurdles. First, the owner shuts the computer down each night, then, he uses a password, and during the day, someone is constantly hovering over the computer. That’s why I couldn’t get in touch with you or Gato.”

“But how did you manage to connect to the USB port?”

Ludwig shrugged his shoulders. “It was pure luck. One of the employees had just turned away from updating some records on the computer. I was up there in one jump and entered my home address. He saw me and shoed me off and shouted something that I was sure was a curse that I’d messed up his work. But before he could mess up my address, the boss called him and I had time enough to connect to the USB port.”

“And then, you ended up again from where you barely escaped only a few seconds earlier.”

“Yeah, that was a bummer. But it was even worse, because I now realized it wasn’t a computer glitch in the sewing room that had prevented me from leaving, and the whole thing had just become much more baffling and kind of spooky.”

“I bet, though, you shook up the employees when you suddenly disappeared and instantly reappeared at the computer.”

“Apparently, nobody noticed it. I was the only one who was completely stupefied. Ditto with the laptop, only this time, the owner had used it and an employee had called him back. And I had another failed get-a-way later with the smart phone when I had a chance to get my paws on it while the restaurant owner used the bathroom before he shut the phone down and went to bed.”

Ludwig’s woes didn’t seem like a big deal to me. The crux of it all had been his faulty tag, and the rest was basically a drag that came along with our Internet travels, playing the stellar role of an escape artist.

“It’ll pan out,” I said. “We’ll just have to be on our paws and grab the first opportunity to get away.”

Ludwig sighed. “But we might be in it for a long haul. I only had a few seconds each time to take my chances, and with the two of us, each one trying to make the connection … and how do we know our tags are already working? Kojak might have been delayed or even unable to fix them.”

“I’m worrying about that, too. What do you say we piggyback? If one of our tags won’t work, we’ll try the other one.”

“That’s a good idea. It’ll be a rough ride, but at least we won’t run the risk that one of us will be left stranded again.”

I bobbed my head. “And it’ll also cut down on the time we need to connect to the USB port, another point you brought up.”

Leaning back, I looked around the room for the computer and understood why it would be difficult for us to get close to anything at all without being underfoot.

Part 68

The kitchen was small and, for a restaurant, rather crammed. Stoves and cooking devices I’d never seen before, some appearing ultra modern, others almost prehistoric, were to my left against the wall. Above them was hanging a spice rack with countless covered glass jars.

Across a narrow aisle ending in another swinging door were cabinets and refrigerators, and wedged in between on a counter, I saw the computer screen. It was an old-fashioned boxy monitor with a separate computer probably shoved far back somewhere underneath. 

“There’s hardly any countertop here,” I said to Ludwig. “Where does the owner have room to open his laptop? You mentioned he was using it in here.”

“The kitchen is kind of L-shaped, so it’s hard to see the rest of it. Look over there at the door leading to the dining room. There are worktables next to it on the right. It’s where they prepare each serving, collect the dirty dishes and have the take-out meals waiting. He does quite a bit of take-out business.”

Ludwig got up and took a few laps of water. Lifting his nose out of the bowl, he sniffed and sniffed.

I jumped to my paws. “You think someone’s coming?”

“No, but that smell.”

“What? You mean something’s burning?” My eyes darted toward the row of stoves, but no flames were licking their tops. “It doesn’t look as if someone left a burner on. What about the ovens?”

“No, nothing like that.”

With his head now high up in the air, Ludwig put his nostrils in overdrive. Suddenly, he leaned toward me and took a short, deep lungful of air. “It’s you. It’s you that I smell.”

“Uh-oh.” I sniffed my fur. “I was hiding under a garbage bin.”

“No, it’s not that, not what humans would call an offensive smell. It’s pungent all right, but different.”

“How come you didn’t notice it on me earlier when we were outside?”

“I was so over the moon seeing you here that it didn’t register, and it had probably deadened my nose—until now.”

“It’s that strong?”

“Well, you smell up the whole room.”

“But with what?”

“Let me try again.” Ludwig tickled me behind my ears with his nose and took another lungful. “It’s kind of exotic, like? … like the bazaar … wait, now I got it. You smell like a spice factory.”

Part 69

I stared at Ludwig. “Are you sure the smell is coming from me? What about all the spices up there on the rack? You said the chef is using a lot of them.”

“Yeah, he does, but he’s very fastidious about them, tightly closing each jar to make sure they don’t lose their aroma. When he was cooking, I only got a quick whiff of one spice at a time.”

“You think I picked it up at the bazaar? There was this weird smell I couldn’t make out. Now it makes sense. How did you figure out it comes from spices?”

“The first time I went there with the restaurant owner, he stopped at a stall to buy spices. So, it was a dead giveaway.”

I ran my nose through Ludwig’s fur and inhaled but only smelled dog. “Why aren’t you wearing that fragrance? We both were inside the bazaar.”

“I guess because I didn’t spend a whole night in there but moved around constantly and only for a short period at a time. And the sheets of fabric you said you were sleeping in were probably already smelly. Your fur soaked it all up. It’ll stay with you until you get a bath.”

“Oh no, no bath for me.”

Ludwig wrinkled his nose and stood clear of me. “Then, our own are going to shun you and boo you, and people will mistake you for a walking spice rack.”

I pricked up my ears. Ludwig’s tease had a ring of truth. Not what he’d said about us dogs which was a no-brainer. We don’t shame each other, but Ludwig had it down pat about the humans.

“What a clever advertisement that would be,” I said. “Walking around and promoting my own bouquet of spices, the goods we’ll be offering for sale.”

“Come again?” Ludwig’s eyes bored into mine. “What on earth are you talking about? Has all that smell you’re carrying around messed with your mind?”

“No.” I smiled at him. “It had a kind of hypnotic effect on me, though, earlier at the bazaar and made me nod off. But listen, I have a fantastic proposition for you.”

“Why do I get the feeling I won’t like this?”

“Because you’re becoming like my brother Wylie. He shies away from any deal that sounds avant-garde.”

“I think I’ll like your brother.”

I squinted. “That’s right, you haven’t met him yet. His clear-cut business ideas are dull and won’t turn any substantial profit. Now, here’s the perfect kibble maker, and I want you to think of yourself as a free spirit.”

I broached the idea about a spice trade with the American market to Ludwig. To make him buy into it, I played up Americans’ love for scarce delicacies and explained that we would acquire the expensive spices here and then send them via the Internet to the customers in America who would be only too eager and happy to part with their money for something they craved.

Part 70

Ludwig listened to my sales pitch without saying a word. When I had wrapped it up, he kept sitting in silence, and his eyes drifted toward the spice rack.

“From where will you get the spices?” he finally asked. “You’re not thinking of robbing the restaurant here, are you?”

“Certainly not. But focus on the bazaar. We both know there’s a cache of it around there. You yourself stopped at one of the stalls and got the gist of …”

“Oh, no.” Ludwig bawled at me. “Stopping by and taking a good look is not stealing.” He took a deep breath. “And to say the very least, there’s no way to take that stuff from any of the stalls without getting into trouble. The sellers or patrolmen will catch you.”

I nodded. “And I don’t want to rip off anybody, it’s not my style. We have to engineer some kind of exchange, fair and square. Think!”

The moment I said it, I knew it had been a mistake. Ludwig started to run in circles and kept going and going, a sign that he was thinking long and hard, and like always, it was driving me nuts.

Usually, he generated a brainstorm—no matter how ludicrous—with his ritual, but it distracted me from putting on my own thinking cap, and I was tempted to resort to my old standby of tripping him. It usually pulled him out of his trance, but it might also cause a ruckus and probably rouse the owner. Instead, I joined Ludwig on his rounds, and gently pushing him sideways, I made his circle smaller and smaller until there was none.

That did the trick. He stopped and, without making a fuss about the interruption, said, “Nothing.”

I groaned. “Maybe I’ll come up with something. But what about it, are you game for a lucrative business venture?”

“You mean to stay here and do it from here? I don’t know.”

“Not staying here for good, just for the time being while we wait for an opportunity to get out of here. You yourself said it won’t be that easy. It would also give us a chance to test our tags.”

“Let me get a good night sleep. This is weighty, and I’m kind of tired. I need a clear mind to come up with an answer for you.” Ludwig staggered toward the back door and curled up on the rug in front of it.

I followed him. “What about me? The restaurant owner will have a fit if he sees me here in the morning.”

“Don’t worry. I’ll know when he wakes up, and you’ll have enough time to go into hiding.”

“But where?”

“Outside, behind the bushes. There are some nice high and thick ones that’ll give good cover. Just stay there until I come. Good night.”

Ludwig had barely said the last two words when he started to snore. I watched him and listened to him for a while before I reluctantly rolled into a ball behind him, trusting him to wake me in time.

Part 71

I had a restless night, plagued over and over again by the same nightmare that the owner grabbed me, put a chain around my neck and dragged me inside the bazaar to a dark corner where he sold me to a drug dealer.

Each time I woke up panting and ready to escape my dooming fate, I realized it had been a dream. Afraid that it might turn out to be a prophecy, I finally scrambled to my paws and squeezed my body between Ludwig and the door. It didn’t give me much room but offered me a running start when I heard the owner.

I spent the few hours left of the night between dozing and listening. To my surprise, Ludwig woke up before I even heard the slightest stir, telling me it was time to leave.

“He’ll be in the kitchen in a couple of minutes,” he said. “Get moving, and just sit tight out there behind one of the bushes. If I can, I’ll sneak out some breakfast for you.”

Already halfway out of the door, I gave out a quick yap and scurried toward my assigned hiding place. It gave me a clear view of the backdoor and a peek into the alley I slinked along in the dark last night.

Now that daylight started to come up, I saw the grimy path hemmed in by tall, drab buildings and ending in the shrubbery in front of me. It was an ominous sight, and I shivered, not so much because it fitted the backdrop for a trap but of how close I had come to missing Ludwig. Had I arrived here a few hours earlier at dusk and saw what it was, I might have chickened out, ignored the Searcher’s signal and turned away.

Everything was quiet except for some traffic noise coming from the main road at the other end of the alley. I crawled a bit farther into the bushes, flopped down and kept my eyes and ears wide open.

To stay alert, I occupied my mind and went over my new business plan. What if there was no way to get our paws on some spices without running into trouble? Maybe that was why Ludwig didn’t even come up with a quip for a solution. 

After brooding over it for a couple of minutes, I decided to revise the plan, as much as I hated to do it. The idea of a spice trade had come to me long before the valuable commodity practically fell into my arms but nevertheless remained out of reach. 

There had to be something else here besides spices that would attract the American consumer and that Ludwig and I could easily and innocently scoop up. 

The only thing I could come up with was the stuff I was sleeping on in the bazaar, some exquisite fabric people used for fine and luxurious clothing. Unfortunately, it was out of the question because we would need to sell it in rolls or bolts which would be far too bulky.

To be continued


About Hobo

This was Hobo Hudson, my doggy brother, a little terrier mix with black fur. He became famous after his first attempt at writing stories, which was an article published in the newsletter of our local animal shelter, the same shelter in which I ended up years later before Hobo and his parents adopted me. Hobo’s fame quickly spread as he made a name for himself as a business dog and an adventurer. To keep his memory alive, my doggy sister, my three kitty siblings and I, Wylie Hudson, are continuing his blog. Our mom, the blog’s editor, is publishing a Hobo Hudson adventure in sequences. Click on: Foreign Business Affairs, and enjoy a different kind of pet story that combines suspense, lightheartedness and quirk.

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