Foreign Business Affairs


A fable by Bruny Hudson

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



To read the story from the beginning, click here.



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.

“Whom?”

“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.”


To be continued
















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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 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 on her website at: newsandtales.com


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Bruny Hudson
Bruny Hudson, manager and editor of Newsandtales.com, assists as a consultant with Hobo’s blog.
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