Authors: Gary Paulsen
Amos leaned against the wall and looked around. Everything was painted white. The door, the cinder-block walls, the shelves—everything. “This place could use an interior decorator.”
“What was that?” Dunc was just coming through the door carrying a soiled newspaper from one of the dog cages.
“Nothing. I was just saying—ooohh, gross! You’re supposed to throw the used ones in the trash. That’s disgusting.”
“I was changing the paper in Martha’s cage when I noticed this article. Listen to
this headline: ‘Police are still baffled by dog-nappings.’ ”
“Why would the police care about a few sleepy dogs?”
“No, Amos. Not napping dogs. Dog-nappings. It means someone is going around stealing dogs. The article says the thief only goes for purebreds. So far he’s taken a Saint Bernard puppy, a beagle, a couple of Dobermans, a shepherd, and a cocker spaniel.”
“Hey, I wonder if the thief would be interested in a border collie. I just happen to have one up for grabs.”
“This isn’t funny, Amos. Someone is taking people’s pets. The lady who lost the spaniel is offering a big reward.”
“How big is big?”
“Two hundred and fifty dollars.”
“You’re right, Dunc. This is serious. If we could find that poor lady’s dog, we’d be rolling in dough.”
“What a way to spend an afternoon! First I spend most of the morning cleaning up doggy doo-doo, then I’m attacked by a savage beast, my skull is nearly split wide open, and now—”
Dunc pedaled his bike up even with Amos. “Now we need to check on a lead. How else are we going to get that reward?”
“I know, but do we have to talk to old Doc Woods? They say he’s too old to still be alive. And besides, he acts weird.”
“Amos, I’m ashamed of you. Doc Woods is our best shot for getting some answers.
For years he was the only veterinarian in town, and sometimes they still ask him to help out at those fancy dog shows. If anybody knows anything about these missing dogs, I bet it’s him.”
Amos coasted his bike into the driveway of an old two-story house. They could hear dogs barking in the ground floor. He looked back at Dunc. “And that’s another thing. Who in their right mind would run a kennel right in their house?”
Dunc put out his kickstand. “People say it’s because he loves animals. He hates to see them mistreated or abandoned, so he takes them to live with him.”
“From the sound of it, he must have half the dog population in town living with him right now.”
Dunc pressed the doorbell.
The weathered old door creaked open. “Come in. Come in.” A little man with a cane in one hand and a sleek brown ferret in the other motioned them inside.
The ferret bared its teeth and made a
hissing noise at Amos. “Now stop that, Toby. We don’t want our guests to think they’re unwelcome.” The man let the ferret run down his arm and out of the room. “Don’t mind Toby. He forgets his manners sometimes. We’re not used to visitors.”
Then, without another word the little man tottered down a long hall and disappeared. Dunc looked at Amos and shrugged. In a few minutes he was back.
But he wasn’t alone.
Doc Woods was carrying a giant boa constrictor on his shoulders. It looked bigger than he was. “Sorry to keep you waiting, boys. It’s Cynthia’s feeding time. She’s a wonderful girl, but she tends to get a little cranky if she’s not fed regularly.”
Amos stepped behind Dunc. “What exactly does Cynthia eat?”
Doc Woods stroked Cynthia’s back. She raised her head, obviously enjoying the attention. “Wild boas are capable of swallowing very large animals. They hang from trees and wait for unsuspecting victims.
Their teeth turn inward, so once they capture something, their prey has no chance of escape.”
Amos swallowed hard and started inching backward toward the door.
“But in Cynthia’s case,” Doc Woods continued, “she has grown accustomed to a more domesticated diet. She mostly eats rats and an occasional mouse or two.”
Amos let out a sigh of relief. “Way to go, Cynthia.”
“If you boys will excuse me, I’ll only be a couple of minutes.”
“No problem.” Amos nervously chewed on a fingernail. “Take your time.”
“Would it be all right if we looked around at some of your dogs?” Dunc asked.
The little man stopped and looked at him quizzically. “Are you interested in dogs, young man?”
“Let’s just say, I’m getting more and more interested all the time.”
“Then feel free to look. I’ll be back when I’ve finished feeding Cynthia.”
Amos watched him round the corner.
“Now’s our chance. Let’s get out of here before it’s too late. This guy is totally off his rocker.”
Dunc moved around the front room looking inside the different cages.
“Come on.” Amos opened the front door. “Haven’t you had enough dogs for one day? Let’s go before Cynthia decides to change her diet.”
“Hmmm. This is interesting. Doc Woods has a Saint Bernard puppy.”
“How cute. Now let’s go.”
“You go on ahead, Amos. I’ll meet you later. I have a couple of questions for old Doc Woods, and I can’t wait to see how he answers them.”
“I don’t know why you asked me over here if all you’re going to do is write on that dumb note pad and talk to yourself.” Amos kicked his shoes off and stretched out on Dunc’s bed.
Dunc looked up from his desk. “Sorry, Amos. It’s just that this case has taken an interesting turn.”
“What case? What are you talking about?”
“The one we’re working on. I’ve entered it in the computer as file number seven four eight. I’m calling it the Case of the
Dastardly Dog Nappers. What do you think?”
“I think you spent too much time over at Doc Woods’s house. He’s starting to rub off on you.”
Dunc ignored him and looked back at his notes. “Here’s what we have so far. Someone has stolen several dogs—”
“How do you know those dogs didn’t just run away? That’s how we were unlucky enough to get Scruff. One day he just showed up on our doorstep, and he’s been making my life miserable ever since.”
“The paper said the police have determined that the dogs were stolen, okay? Now be quiet while I read the rest of the criminal’s MO.”
“Modus operandi. It means the way the criminal works.”
“Remind me to tell your mother to cancel your subscription to
“Get serious, Amos. We could make a lot of money if we solve this one. You said so yourself.”
“That’s the only reason I’m here. Otherwise I’d be MO-ing down at the arcade.”
“Okay, we’ve got stolen dogs, all purebreds. Which means the thief knows what he’s looking for.”
Amos picked up a model jet on Dunc’s dresser. “So you think this guy is selling them? Like maybe on the black market?”
“Maybe, or he could just be collecting them. By the way, the glue on that jet is still wet.”
Amos tried to put it down. His fingers were stuck—solid. He shook the model and pulled hard. Nothing.
“Did you notice the number of purebreds over at Doc Woods’s earlier? He has almost every kind of dog that the paper mentioned.”
Amos put his foot on the jet and pulled. “Are you saying you think old Doc Woods is the thief?”
Dunc set his notes on the desk. He looked at Amos and sighed. He took one of Amos’s fingers and pried it loose from the jet. “It’s starting to look that way. When I
tried to ask him about the purebreds, he changed the subject.”
“Hey, watch it! You’re taking all the hide off!” Amos studied his raw fingertips. “Did it occur to you that Doc Woods is too old to go around stealing people’s dogs? He’d have to be able to jump fences and stuff.”
“I found out he has an accomplice. As I was leaving today, Tommy James rode up in the drive. He told me he works for Doc Woods.”
“That doesn’t prove anything. It’s not illegal to work for somebody.”
“Which part are you agreeing with—the ‘that doesn’t prove anything’ part or the ‘it’s not illegal’ part?”
“Both. And it’s our job to find the proof so that we can prove the illegal part.”
“That’s what I was afraid of.”
Dunc headed toward the door. “First we’ll pay a little visit to Tommy and see if he can tell us anything. Then we’ll go to Doc Woods’s and look for Fifi.”
“All right, just hold it right there.” Amos swung his legs over the side of the bed. “First of all, who is Fifi? And what do you mean, go back to Doc Woods? It’s getting late. That place is full of—of creatures.”
“Fifi’s the dog the reward was offered on. And I know it’s late. I figure after we talk to Tommy, it’ll be just about the right time to take a good look around without anyone bothering us.”
Amos sat up. “Let me get this straight. You’re planning to break into Doc Woods’s house in the middle of the night?”
“Count me out. My mother didn’t raise a complete idiot. There’s a snake in there that can swallow people—whole.”
“Doc said Cynthia only eats rats, and besides, she’ll be in her cage. So will all the other animals. There’s nothing to worry about. All we have to do is find Fifi and collect the reward. Simple.”
“There you go with that word
again. Are you sure you know what it
means? Every time you say it, things turn out bad for us.”
Dunc rubbed his chin. “A guy sure could do a lot with two hundred and fifty dollars. Think how impressed Melissa would be if you came to school with a whole new image. New clothes, new haircut, new bike. …”
Amos thought about it.
Not long. He beat Dunc out the door.
“Talking to Tommy was a big waste of time.” Dunc hid his bike carefully in the bushes near the alley behind Doc Woods’s house. “He didn’t know anything about the missing dogs.”
Amos rode up behind him. “It wasn’t a total loss. He confessed to pocketing the extra change when he goes to the pet store to buy mice for Cynthia. And he gave me this really neat bag of marbles.”
“I don’t know if you should have accepted the marbles. People might get the
idea that we were trying to intimidate him or something.”
“Just because we asked him a few questions?”
“It wasn’t the questions. It was more the way you kept hitting that baseball bat against the tree and telling him the penalty for dog-napping is life in prison with no video games.”
Amos climbed off his bike. “Do you think I was too hard on him?”
“I guess not. He needed to go straight. I just wish he could have given us something more to go on. The way things stand, we really can’t be sure if Doc Woods has Fifi or not.”
Amos was still holding his bike. “Then please tell me what we are doing in this dumb alley in the middle of the night.”
“We’re here because it still could be Doc Woods. He might have another accomplice. One we don’t know about yet.”
“Or it could
be Doc Woods, and we’re out here missing supper and my favorite
Night of the Mutants
, for nothing.”
Dunc made a face. “You shouldn’t be watching that stuff. It’s warped.”
Amos looked indignant. “I’ll have you know that
Night of the Mutants
is very educational. The last episode was about this lady who had an extra little head growing out of her neck and could kill people by spitting on them.”