Authors: David Lubar
by David Lubar
For Kelly Milner Halls,
who found this book a wonderful home
Text copyright © 2004 by David Lubar
Cover illustration © 2004 by Lerner Publishing Group, Inc.
Cover illustration by Chris Sheban
Design by Keith Van Norman
All rights reserved. International copyright secured. No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means—electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise—without the prior written permission of Lerner Publishing Group, Inc., except for the inclusion of brief quotations in an acknowledged review.
A division of Lerner Publishing Group, Inc.
241 First Avenue North
Minneapolis, MN 55401 U.S.A
Dog days / by David Lubar.
ISBN 978-1-58196-013-6 Hardcover
ISBN 978-1-58196-025-9 Paperback
Summary: Larry is enjoying the summer, playing baseball and taking care of the stray dogs he’s brought home. Then his brother Paul finds another stray in an alley under mysterious circumstances, but the dog won’t come home with them. When the price of dog food rises and the price paid for scrap falls, Larry has to find a new way to feed his dogs and try to help the dog from the alley.
1. Boys—Juvenile fiction. 2. Dogs—Juvenile fiction. 3. Brothers—Juvenile fiction. 4. Money—Juvenile fiction. [1. Boys—Fiction. 2. Dogs—Fiction. 3. Brothers—Fiction. 4. Money—Fiction.] I. Title.
PZ7.L96775 Do 2004
Manufactured in the United States of America
eISBN: 978-0-7613-8275-1 (pdf)
eISBN: 978-1-4677-3210-9 (ePub)
eISBN: 978-1-4677-3211-6 (mobi)
Larry Haskins blocked the morning sun with his right hand and tried to spot the fly ball that was dropping from the sky. He caught sight of it high up, almost blending with a small patch of summer clouds.
“Got it!” Larry shouted. He brought his glove into position and dashed forward. There weren’t many things as wonderful as the smack of a hardball landing dead center in the web of a welloiled glove. It was especially wonderful because Adam Felcher had hit the ball. Last inning, Adam had caught Larry’s line drive just before it would have sailed over the fence.
This was payback time—bottom of the ninth, two outs, the tying run on second.
Larry glanced away from the ball long enough to check the infield. The kid on second had reached third. Adam had rounded first and was tearing toward second. It didn’t matter how far he got. He’d be out as soon as Larry made the play.
Plunging like a diving hawk, the ball was headed right for Larry’s glove. Around the infield, his teammates yelled for him to make the catch. He tuned out the voices. Nothing existed in the world but the ball and his glove.
“Lar-r-r-ry!” A frightened shout ripped the air behind him. Startled, Larry glanced over his shoulder. His six-year-old brother, Paul, ran onto the field from a hole in the fence. “Larry, come with me! You have to come!” he yelled.
With a sudden rush of panic, Larry realized he’d taken his eyes off the ball. He flung his arm up. The ball hit the top of his glove and grazed off. It struck the ground, bounced against a rock, and skittered across the grass like a frightened rabbit.
Larry chased the ball. From the cheers that rose behind him, he knew that the tying run had already scored. He snatched the ball with his bare hand and spun, making the throw to Mark Tilly at second base just as Adam reached third. The throw was perfect. Mark caught it, turned toward the plate, and hurled a bullet to the catcher. Adam slid into home—just ahead of the throw.
“Safe!” the kid behind the plate called.
The whole time, Paul kept shouting, “Larry! Larry! Larry . . .”
Larry glared at his brother. “What are you doing in town?”
“Mom sent me to the store for a spool of thread,” Paul said.
“Then go to the store,” Larry said. “They don’t sell thread here. They sell it
.” He pointed past the field, down Washington Avenue, toward the row of little shops. “And stay on this side of the street.”
“But, Larry, I think someone needs help.” Paul grabbed Larry’s wrist and started pulling. “Someone’s in trouble. You’ve got to come.”
“No,” Larry said. “We’re about to start another game.” He was looking forward to getting back up to the plate. This time
would catch what he hit.
“It’s important!” Paul stared up at Larry with eyes that seemed to say,
You’re my big brother and you can fix anything
. Then he yanked at Larry’s hand like he was trying to pluck an apple from a tree. “C’mon, pleeease!”
“All right, quit tugging.” Larry couldn’t refuse that pleading lost-puppy expression. And he realized there’d be no peace until he found out what Paul wanted. “I’ll be right back,” he called to his friends.
Carlos Montoya, who’d just arrived at the field, rushed in to fill Larry’s spot. “Take your time, Larry. I’ve got it covered.”
“This way,” Paul said, climbing back through the hole in the outfield fence and trotting down Larch Street toward Washington Avenue.
Larry followed his brother, wondering what silly misunderstanding it would be this time. Last week, when they’d gone to the park with their parents, Paul yelled that he saw an alligator in the pond. The gator turned out to be a log. Sure, there was green moss on the log and rough bark that looked a little like a reptile’s skin, but it was still nothing more than a wet log, which wasn’t surprising since there wasn’t a wild alligator within a thousand miles of where they lived.
Before that, there’d been burglars in the attic, a Martian in the backyard, a
in the woods, monsters in every possible hiding place throughout the house, goblins on the roof, and about fifty thousand other terrors—all springing from Paul’s unstoppable imagination. He seemed to find something new to shout about every time he wandered away from where he was supposed to be.
As Larry followed his little brother along Washington Avenue, he wondered what could possibly happen on this quiet street in the middle of this quiet town. There wasn’t any sign of a person in trouble—just a bunch of small stores and a couple of office buildings.
“Here . . . in the alley,” Paul said when they’d gone halfway down the block. He dashed ahead, and then glanced back.
Larry caught up with his brother and looked into the alley that ran between the Reader’s Roost Bookstore and LaGuardia’s Diner, just half a block away from the shop where Paul was supposed to have gone. The narrow alley went from the sidewalk all the way to the back of the shops.
“What are you talking about? I don’t see anyone,” Larry said. Then he noticed something near the end of the alley—something that took him by surprise.
“Nice dog,” Larry said. He stood a while, admiring the animal that was half-hidden in the shadows. The dog looked young, maybe a year or two old, about the size of a shepherd, but with a coat of short black hair. No collar or tags.
Could be part black Lab
, Larry thought. He knew every breed of dog on the planet. Besides baseball, there wasn’t anything in the world he liked as much as dogs. Sometimes he thought he might even like dogs a little more than baseball. A ball had never wagged its tail when it saw him. A bat had never kept him company when he was sad.
Then Larry remembered why he’d let himself get dragged away from his baseball game. “I don’t see anyone.”
“No, not there,” Paul pointed to the left side of the alley. “There! Look on the wall. Way in the back.”
As Larry scanned the wall, his stomach tightened. A big red stain, five feet above the ground, was splattered against the side of the bookstore.
Still pointing to the spot, Paul said, “I think somebody got killed.”
Larry stared for another moment, but quickly convinced himself that the spot on the wall couldn’t be blood. “Relax, Paul. That’s just paint or something. Come on. I’ll show you.”
“No,” Paul said, shaking his head. He moved behind Larry.
“There’s nothing to be afraid of,” Larry told him. He stepped into the alley, then froze as the dog bared its teeth, hunched down, and growled.
, Larry thought as he slowly backed away.
Dogs like me
. “Hi, boy,” he said. “Nice dog.”
The dog kept growling. “I guess we’re not getting any closer,” Larry said. “But you can see from here—it’s just paint.” He searched the alley for evidence, an empty paint can or a brush or something. But nothing like that was in sight. The bookstore wall was blank except for the red splotch. The building didn’t even have a window. A door at the side of the diner was closed. Three garbage cans stood next to the door. Two were round. The third one was the big, blue, square kind the town had started giving people for recycling.
Paul looked up at his brother and said, “It isn’t paint. Paint would say something.”
“Say something?” Larry asked.
“You know, like a name or a picture,” Paul said.
“Oh, you mean graffiti. Okay, maybe it isn’t paint. But even if someone got hurt, there’s nobody around now who needs help. Come on, I’ll walk you home.” Larry wanted to go back to the game, but before that, he needed to check on his own dogs.
As Larry headed down the street, he kept glancing back. Even though the dog in the alley had growled, he halfway expected it to follow him. Dogs really did like him, no doubt about it. That was good, but it was also the cause of his biggest problem—just about every stray he met followed him home. The first time it happened, four years ago, he’d begged his parents to let him keep the dog. They’d said the dog could stay in the backyard until he found out where it belonged. Larry had cared for the dog for two weeks before the owner answered one of the “lost dog” posters he’d put up all over town.
Since then, Larry had helped out dozens of dogs. He almost always had at least one. He’d taken care of as many as four at a time. As hard as it was for him to give them away, he knew that each time he got a lost dog back where it belonged or found a new home for a stray, it meant he’d have room to help another dog.
Right now, he had three dogs in the backyard. His parents didn’t mind, as long as he took good care of the dogs and bought all their food. His dad worked real hard every day, and his mom had a part-time job on the weekends, but there wasn’t enough extra money to feed three dogs. Larry had already spent most of his savings on dog food. There was no way he could afford to feed another stray right now. Even if he had all the food in the world, the dog in the alley definitely didn’t want to make friends with him.
When he was half a block away from his house, Larry could already see the dogs leaping and barking. They knew he was coming.
“Hi, boys,” Larry said when he stepped through the gate in the backyard fence.
The dogs leaped all over him, licking his face, nipping at his shirt, and competing for his attention. “Good boys,” Larry said. They were nice dogs that had somehow ended up on the street. One of the strays—he’d named it Duke—was mostly shepherd. The others, Buck and Hobo, were mostly mixed, although Hobo was definitely part collie. Larry was careful about strays. His dad had a friend who worked for a vet, and the friend got each dog checked out. These dogs weren’t sick or dangerous—just homeless. But Larry would make sure they were never homeless again.
“Want to help me feed them?” he asked Paul, who was still standing outside the fence.
“Yeah, but don’t let them jump on me. Okay?”
“I’ll try.” Larry climbed the back porch steps and went into the kitchen. “I’m home,” he said to his mom. “Paul’s with me.”
His mom sighed and shook her head. “Thanks. I told him to come straight back.”
As Larry lifted the dog food from the closet, he noticed how light the bag felt.
Time to buy another one
, he thought. Duke and Buck were adults, but Hobo was still growing, and he seemed to eat more each day.
The dogs went wild again when Larry brought the bag into the yard. “You can check the water,” he told Paul as he filled the food bowls.
Paul dashed through the gate and grabbed the water bowl. He hurried over to the faucet at the back of the house while the dogs were busy chomping at the food.
“Thanks,” Larry said when Paul set the bowl down.
Paul slowly reached out to pet Duke. But when Duke lifted his head to sniff his fingers, Paul yanked his hand back.
“Go ahead,” Larry said. “You know he won’t hurt you.”
Paul shook his head and stepped away from the dogs. “I think I’ll go inside.”
Larry had a hard time understanding how anyone could be afraid of the dogs. But he realized that to Paul, who had just finished kindergarten, the animals must seem pretty big.
Larry put the dog food away and went to his room. He took his bank down from the shelf next to his bed. He had twelve dollars—most of it from odd jobs he’d done around the neighborhood. He also collected aluminum cans and old newspapers and took them to the scrap yard every week. It was hard work, but there weren’t many other ways a kid could earn money. Carlos, who had a paper route, was moving in September, and he’d promised Larry that he could take it over. Larry knew he could make good money with a paper route. But fall was a long way off. For now, he’d just have to scrape by.
He took money from his bank, walked three blocks to the market, then went inside and headed down the pet-food aisle. As Larry reached out to grab the bag, he saw something that froze him where he stood.
“That can’t be right,” he said.
It had to be some kind of mistake.