It was not the Dogfather's usual afternoon to cruise. Yesterday hadn't been either, but Don Cortisone felt the need to display his tan bulldog hulk to the troops. The neighborhood was in a state of flux and high-visibility patrols could help insure that some things didn't change. Namely, the status of his turf.
To be Dogfather, you had to have a better-than-average shot of Canine smarts. You had to be able to identify forty or fifty different dog scents, even from two day old evidence. You had to have chased the dogcatcher off your turf single-jawed, twice in one day. You had to pee in the yard of every pooch in your organization once a week. You had to be brutal and domineering, and be able to back it up. Few dogs aspired to the title; fewer acquired it.
Don Cortisone met all the requirements. He had invented a few of them. His cunning network of influence and favors kept the most dangerous hairs apparent too busy with their own jobs to think about going for his. Never in the five years of his tenure had his position been challenged, not by any mutt.
Not until now. His name was Prancer.
They faced each other across a block's worth of sidewalk.
The Dogfather marked a corner of the lawn where he and his two henchdogs were standing and eyed his adversary: a mastiff as big as a full-grown human and the color of dried blood. Cortisone was twice the size of a normal bulldog, but this challenger still had about fifty pounds on him. Measured in lunges, the distance between them was short: five or six flat-out leaps would bring them jaw-to-jaw in the middle of the block.
Revealing traces of the mastiff's scent tickled Cortisone's nose. Perfume: this pooch was well-kept by his masters, probably a pedigree with a drawer full of ribbons. Animal blood and saliva: he was stud enough to hunt down and kill stray rabbits, or cats. Essence of urine: he'd been putting his mark on yards well within the Dogfather's turf.
This last offense would have rated instant attack and dismemberment by Cortisone and crew had it not been for another odor: Prancer's henchdogs. They stepped out from behind the mastiff with teeth bared and jostled each other for show: the muscle hath arrived. The two groups held their positions and sniffed at the ground, studying each other.
"Do we jump 'em, Boss?" Honch was a Doberman pup who'd barely learned to use all his legs in unison. His powers of reason were developing more slowly.
"Don't be so anxious to get your face chewed," Cortisone told him. "This turf runs on more macho and less action than you think." Honch hung his head.
Cortisone's other companion, a Weimaraner his own size named Scrapper, pulled back ash-gray lips and revealed his teeth to the mastiff's group. It was an appropriate gesture for him. The Dogfather's consigliori was second most powerful pooch on the block. Scrapper proved his worthiness of the office weekly.
"We can take them, Dogfather."
He was right, but Cortisone didn't like the odds. One on one, and he would get the mastiff. In addition to the extra fifty pounds, Prancer had two inches more bite.
He'd lose to Cortisone in the end because a bulldog can breathe with its jaws locked tightly around most any throat, but the bulldog usually got battered as well. And Honch might not survive at all. Cortisone felt that jaws were best used for making noise, not pain.
"Negotiate now and fight later, if we need to. That's an order. First bite belongs to them. Understood?"
Both dogs nodded their heads. The groups approached each other cautiously. There was an uneasy round of rump sniffing as they met and the henchdogs formed a ragged circle around their leaders. No tail wagged one iota.
"Don Cortisone," the mastiff growled. "Your reputation precedes you."
"Believe what you hear, Prancer. You and your mutts are trespassing on my turf. Newcomers get a warning the first time." Cortisone bared his teeth; on him it looked more like a shark's smile. "Second offenses are another matter."
The mastiff rippled his muscles. "Are you picking a fight?"
His henchdogs shuffled nervously. Cortisone relaxed on his haunches and scratched an ear.
"Merely stating a fact, my friend. News travels fast around here, especially when it's about some mutt who thinks he's got what it takes to be Dogfather. I want you to know that I'm prepared to defend my title against any dog. Alone."
The ring of dogs around them loosened and the hair on Prancer's back went up. Cortisone tensed himself and searched his adversary's face for clues to his reaction. The insult had been delivered. They had reached a Moment of Truth where the action could go either way.
Prancer could back down by continuing to talk or he could accept the challenge with his teeth. The Dogfather was gambling that his opponent had at least a modicum of intelligence. No smart dog went looking for pain.
Prancer didn't disappoint him. "It could come to that, I suppose, but why fight over territory? There's plenty to go around."
"My turf extends three blocks in every direction from here. It's not open to squatters. I'm prepared to defend every square inch personally, though I won't have to. My organization is locked up as tightly as my jaws will around a challenger's throat...but really, I abhor violence. I mean no harm to any dog."
"A model of decency," Prancer sneered. "The fact is that my new place is on your turf, and I'm building an organization of my own. Your so-called authority is slipping and I'm picking up the slack. But I'm serious about a compromise with you. Try this: up to the last block becomes my territory. This one gets declared no dog's land. You keep the rest. We live in peace."
Cortisone yipped in amusement. "Why should I strike a deal with you? What's in it for me and my hounds?"
Prancer's macho returned and he revealed a shark's grin of his own. "You could be dragging your tails in the dirt next month."
"That's tough talk for a mutt with no backers."
"I have a pedigree," snapped Prancer, "and I say that your organization is out chasing cars. Mine is growing. Impress me if you can, Dogfather Don Cortisone, and I'll recognize your title. Otherwise. . ."
"The law of the jaw bites both ways, challenger. Prove to me that you're more than a bark in the yard. There could be a place for you in my network."
"Or one for you in mine. I'll wait for your demonstration, Cortisone. You watch for mine. Sniff you later."
Prancer and his goons turned and padded up the sidewalk toward his headquarters. Scrapper clapped his chops together and turned to the Boss.
"Whatcha got in mind, Dogfather? What kind of display does this mutt rate?"
"A big one, consigliori. What, I don't know yet. That mutt could be more trouble to us than a tight collar. We need a show of solidarity, and we need it to be impressive. Do some thinking on it, okay?"
They returned to the Dogfather's estate in silence.
Frenzied barking echoed raggedly across the carefully-laid stonework of the estate and penetrated the small grove of foliage that surrounded Don Cortisone's pool. It was a fountain and pond really, which he had to share with numerous frogs, a turtle, and an unamusing stone statue of a boy pissing into the water.
Cortisone stirred in his deck chair and cocked an ear as the sound drew closer. It was joined by a thrashing in the bushes that made him wince. The gardener worked four hours a day on those shrubs. Honch could destroy them in a matter of minutes!
The Dogfather opened his mouth and let out the deep, throaty howl that was his trademark. The barking ceased immediately. There was a light thump on the roof of the gazebo to the left, and Cortisone spied a dark shape skulking in the shadows. But he kept his intimidating stare directed toward front and center.
Honch bounded into the courtyard wagging his tail in happy exhaustion from the chase, to find himself nose to nose with the Dogfather. He sucked in the tongue when he saw Cortisone's expression.
"The gardener said that the next time he caught you tearing up the shrubs, he was going to shoot you."
Honch lay on his back and exposed his vulnerable belly. "I'm sorry, Dogfather."
"You'll be a lot sorrier with a bullet in your skull. Smarten up, kid." Cortisone leaned back in his chair, nearly breaking it with his weight, and turned off the evil eye. "You're young and still trying to make everything work right. I realize that. But a madman with a pistol won't feel the same way. Bang you're dead and that's it."
Honch leaped to his feet. "But Dogfather, I was chasing--"
"A cat. Yes, I know. Don't look so surprised. You didn't catch him, did you? Catch a cat by thinking like one, Honch. Wait for the right moment and pounce."
He leaned over his water and tasted it delicately, as if it were fine brandy. "Look, you'll make a valuable member of the War Council, maybe even Dogfather, if you last that long. So wise up and live. Now get out of here and leave the shrubs alone or I'll chew on you myself."
Honch stood for a moment with his jaw open, trying to absorb all that his Boss had said. Then he offered his belly again and backed out of the courtyard with his nose to the stones. Scrapper passed him on the way in. Trailing him was a puny black-and-white terrier.
It was Willie from down the street, trembling as he entered the courtyard. He kept glancing at Scrapper as if he expected the eerie gray Weimaraner to strike at any moment. Scrapper grinned as if he might do it.
Willie offered his belly to the Dogfather. "I've come to ask a favor."
"Get up, Willie. You're among friends." Willie did so.
"It's my master...he's treating me bad. Really bad. He locks me in the house all day and then beats the tar out of me for pissing on the floor!"
Cortisone snorted. "If he beats any more tar out of you, there won't be anything left!"
"Please, Dogfather," Willie pleaded. "It's been going on for months now. I can't take it much longer. You've got to help me."
Don Cortisone gazed up at the gazebo roof. The shape was still there, well concealed in the tree shadows and as motionless as a victim of hit-and-run.
"The shower, Willie. Piss in the shower. It's an old trick I learned from a cat. The owners don't mind half as much."
Willie yipped. "Of course! Why didn't I think of that? But he'll still beat me, Dogfather. You've got to do more..." He let out a toothy growl that belonged to a wolf, not a terrier. "You've got to punish him!"
"I'll do more for you, Willie, but you know the law of the jaw. When I come to you for a favor, you won't refuse ...will you?" It wasn't a question.
"Yes! I mean no, Dogfather. I mean I'll do it."
"Good. You're locked up again tomorrow?"
"Until five-thirty--the bastard!"
Cortisone nodded. "That ought to be just about right. Listen, stay out of the front yard tomorrow, even if he tries to push you out. Understand?"
"Oh yes, Dogfather! Thank you, thank you! Uh, will I see it happen?"
"Watch from inside, Willie, and enjoy. Now beat it!"
Willie took so long bowing his head and offering his belly to the Dogfather in thanks that Scrapper finally grabbed him by the nape of the neck and dragged him out of the courtyard. Honch acted as escort to the street.
Back at the pool, Cortisone was huffing and snorting at something very funny. It was contagious: Scrapper found himself huffing and honking with him. "You're scheming, Dogfather. I know it! What're we going to do?"
"Today, right now, you're going to go out and visit every Block Captain in the network. Compulsory organized action at five-thirty tomorrow, but it'll be fun. Everyone comes, and I mean everyone. Call up favors. Round up the independents. Don't come back until every mutt has heard the plan from you or a Block Captain."
"Dogfather, what is it? What could be that big?"
"Operation Backfill. Heh-heh, our demonstration for Prancer. You'll understand when you hear what it is."
Scrapper's lips fluttered with guffaws as Don Cortisone outlined the plan for him. His entire body quaked with laughter. Then he rushed out to give his instructions to the Block Captains.
Finally alone, Cortisone sighed and bowed his head to the table for another go at his water. Suddenly the shape on the gazebo roof came to life. It padded swiftly to the edge and leapt with claws bared.
A black cat! It described an incredible twenty-foot arc through the air and landed on the table two feet from the Dogfather's face.
Don Cortisone kept right on drinking.
"Howdy, Boss." The cat winked at him and began to clean a forepaw. "Great plan, Operation Backfill. Stroke of genius."
The Dogfather eyed his visitor and reflected on the inscrutability of feline expressions. There wasn't enough skin on a cat's face to wrinkle out any sort of emotion. All clues lay in the position of the ears and the eyelids, or the tail. Friday had been in his network over three years and could be trusted with anything, but he remained a stranger to Cortisone. To think like a cat was difficult for any dog, despite the advice he had given earlier.
"You have a report on the pedigree's house?"
Friday flapped his ears briefly. "More like a mansion, Boss, but you know that. The place is a class one traffic hazard! No injuries yet, luckily. Four vans, get this, four BIG moving vans and a dozen small delivery trucks unloading stuff all day. Movers. Landscapers. Designers. Bricklayers. Carpenters. Tree planters--they're building a jungle out there!"
Cortisone gazed around his domain. Here was the pool with the juvenile fountain and foliage. There were rose bushes, lilacs and vines climbing up the gazebo roof supports. Colorful rock patio tile seemed to be everywhere. Small plum and prune orchards occupied another part of the grounds.
And shrubs. Carefully trimmed, lovingly fertilized, shrub-shrub-shrubs. A few Bonsai trees completed the picture. Thank Man they were so expensive, or the whole yard might have been potted dwarf trees. You could get hurt lifting your leg at them.
Cortisone sighed. "Another Frank Lloyd Wright of the lawn. I know the type."
"They can afford it. To top it off, there's his and hers BMW's in the driveway. A nice couple, really. She was at the moving men's throats all day to be more careful and watch out, that's fragile! Then hubby had the gall to sit in a deck chair with his sunglasses and a drink and watch them all day. Never lifted a finger."
"Hooo, they sound like winners. No wonder the pedigree's got a neurosis. Well, we know one place we can hit the mutt. Trouble is--" Cortisone indicated the lush foliage around them. "--we're just as vulnerable."
Friday's gold eyes narrowed to slits. "You're vulnerable other ways, Dogfather. Prancer's not lying about picking up pooches for his own network. It's happening. Your show of force will come none too soon."
"I hope it's effective."
The cat winked at him again and cleaned his other forepaw. "Like I said, a stroke of genius. It's a shame we won't have any pictures."
"What can I say? We might make the newspapers. Keep your eyes on the trash the day after."
Friday flapped his ears and opened his eye fully. "I will. Five-thirty tomorrow, huh? I'll be watching."
Willie waited for five-thirty to come all day, which wasn't much different from what he always did except that this time he felt no dread. Today, the clock's hands couldn't move fast enough.
Five-thirty arrived at last, along with his master. He discovered a "mistake" (his euphemism for puddles of piss) in the shower and booted his dog. Willie growled in his face. No mistake, mister. I meant to put it there.
His master kicked him twice more before the disturbance began. It was a rumbling from the front yard, sounding at first like a car pulling into the driveway. But the rumbling built quickly into the sound of a full-scale riot. It was a massive, jumbled pounding of feet mixed with the cries and yelps of dogs.
"Dogs! Here to defile the yard!" Willie's owner grabbed his usual broom and charged to the front of the house. He threw open the door, stepped onto the porch, and halted in his tracks as he scanned the front yard for the first time.
There was no front yard. It was an ocean of dogs' backs. They were huddling around, well, dozens of them--barking and jostling each other for territory. Mostly they were squatting all over the lawn, onmigod, the carefully landscaped lawn! A group of four mutts formed a crude line at the bottom of the front steps and looked up at the human, daring him to cross. Suddenly the broom in his hand seemed more suited to sweeping than it had ever seemed before.
He backed into the house and slammed the door.
Don Cortisone looked on from a distance as dog after dog crammed into the churning mass on Willie's front lawn. Scrapper had a rough tail count of fifty, give or take a few mutts, and they were all doing their duty to the fullest. Cortisone mentally patted himself on the head. What a display!
Willie stood on the love seat with his paws against the window and looked on in amazement. His master was too dazed to shoo him off. He was busy screaming into the telephone would the police get a goddamn cruiser over here right now and do something because he was under siege. He had to repeat the story for several listeners.
Out on the lawn, the mass of dogs was clearing out. The grass and landscaped redwood bark chips were littered with stinking, steaming heaps. A small brown mountain rose in the center of the yard and a lone maple sprouted from the mountain's peak. Willie giggled to himself. No matter how many kicks he got tonight, they wouldn't hurt at all.
Prancer sauntered over to the Dogfather and Scrapper and sat with them. He surveyed Operation Backfill and yawned. "Is that all?"
Scrapper was furious. "What do you mean, 'Is that all?' That's a minor mountain over there, that's all! Where can you get fifty mutts on short notice?"
"Maybe closer than you think."
"You've been working our mutts," Scrapper growled. "I ought to--"
"Cool off," Cortisone interrupted. "So Prancer's not impressed with Operation Backfill. That's his priviledge. The day's only half over ...maybe he's got something to show us. How about it, pedigree?"
Prancer scratched his ear. "I've been busy this afternoon. You know, a couple of hot bitches from uptown. I never could keep 'em away. No time to organize. But I did what I could."
A faint echo grew louder, the sound of frenzied howling and barking. Two gray blurs streaked around the corner and headed for Willie's lawn. They were identical greyhounds maybe three years old and running flat out. They cleared the brown mountain with ease, but the thirty or more mutts chasing them plowed right into it. They barely slowed down.
Bitches in heat, Cortisone thought wildly, Prancer's friends! Their mob of boyfriends was Cortisone's own mutts, their duty to the Dogfather recently discharged. Cortisone had to admit with a chuckle that Prancer had indeed commandeered a large group of followers on extremely short notice.
His chuckle faded as the greyhounds made a beeline for his own estate and disappeared into the hedges.
Great jumping jackrabbits, NOOOOO!!! The ragtag pack slobbered onto the grounds after the bitches, and this time the shrubs disappeared. It was like a John Wayne western where the giant cattle stampede smashed flat everything in its path.
The hedgerow had a gap the size of a Winnebago. Frustrated howling could be heard from inside the estate. Those bitches were surely leading the pack on a merry chase all through the grounds!
Loud cursing joined the cacaphony, but no gunshots. The poor gardener's pistol must have jammed. A shame. Dog drool seemed to have an adverse effect on mechanisms like that. For once, Cortisone wished that he wasn't so thorough in his advance planning.
He winced as the greyhounds shot back through a different section of the hedgerow and it was flattened a moment later by his own mutts. The chase crossed Willie's yard again and Operation Backfill was reduced to a lake of mucky sewage.
A trail of smelly footprints followed the stampede across two more yards and down the street.
"That was your doing," Cortisone growled at Prancer.
The mastiff wore a wide-eyed expression. "My lady friends! How did they get out?"
Gunshots finally rang out from inside Cortisone's estate, followed by more cursing. The two gaps in the hedgerow looked like some giant dentist's mistake. Cortisone wrinkled his brow. It would be a long time before his masters forgot about this fiasco.
He turned from the carnage to the sad remains of Operation Backfill. A police cruiser emptied two blue-uniformed kids into the street, and they stared at the gurgling, stinking mess that had been Willie's front yard.
"This isn't over," Cortisone snarled at Prancer as they ran off in opposite directions. To Scrapper: "I'd better stay at your place for a few days, until the gardener cools off. Good Man, I could get shot!"
"Revenge, Dogfather. What about it? You can't let him get away with that!"
"He's not getting away with anything, consigliori. First we regroup, then we strike. I haven't got a plan fleshed out yet, but I guarantee you it'll make Operation Backfill look like a molehill!"
Scrapper mentally calculated how many dogs it would take to commit that caper.
By the end of three days it was safe enough for the Dogfather to return from his self-imposed exile, but things weren't even close to normal. The dogcatcher now patrolled his turf four times a day and carried a gun. The humans whose lawns had been trashed were up in arms. Few pooches dared to walk the streets, and not one of them was a Block Captain. The cowards!
The estate was in sad shape. Shrubbery had been torn out everywhere and the gardener alternately cursed and cried as he set about replanting. Only the insolent stone boy fountain was untouched, still spilling water into the pool. Cortisone's deck chair and table had fallen to the slavering horde; he took up a spot at the edge of the pool.
Friday was the only member of the Dogfather's network able to move freely throughout the turf, and they became inseparable when he wasn't out running errands for the Boss. They met in an out-of-the-way corner of the grounds and traced the plans for revenge in the dirt.
The cat flapped his ears at a diagram Don Cortisone had drawn in the dirt. "This'll take good timing and a LOT of setup, Dogfather. And luck."
"I'm bringing in some special help for the setup, don't worry. Timing and skill you've got, so forget about luck. You won't need it."
The cat's ears twirled a full 180 degrees and back again. "Why, thank you, Dogfather. I'm proud of my reflexes."
"There's a big reward for you and your reflexes when the job is done. You'll have earned it."
"You still misunderstand me, Cortisone." Friday's gold eyes shone. "What I like is the doing. That's my reward. Besides, what are you going to give me? I'm already top cat in the network, not to mention the only one."
Cortisone snorted. "I'll think of something. But don't give me that 'doing is being' philosophical drool. You're just as interested in maintaining the status quo as I am. Now go get me Willie. It's time to call up his favor."
By the weekend things looked closer to normal. Pooches cruised the streets again. The dogcatcher was back to a single run through the neighborhood each day, and every mutt dropped out of sight as soon as the alert went up. Prancer set about recruiting immediately, but it was slow going. Every mutt was waiting to see if the Dogfather could top Prancer's power play. They didn't have to wait for long.
The mastiff and two of his henchdogs had just finished their daily circuit of the Dogfather's turf and were a block away from Prancer's estate when Scrapper came charging up the street behind them. His approach was swift and silent, and he rammed one henchdog into the other as he went by. He kept right on going.
The henchdogs picked themselves up, growling savagely, and tore out after Scrapper. They disappeared behind a building and suddenly there was the sound of many dogs at once: yelping, barking, fighting. The henchdogs didn't return.
Prancer hurried toward his estate.
At the entrance was a more blatant indignity: little Willie the terrier was calmly pissing on the wrought-iron gate. Prancer loomed over him from behind and growled, "What do you think you're doing, runt?"
Willie gulped but held his ground. "I, uh, had to go, Prancer. I didn't think you'd mind."
"You're a friend of the Dogfather's. The law of the jaw says I can tear you to ribbons, and that's what I'm going to do. You've had it, mutt!"
Prancer bared his teeth and gloated over the trembling dog for a moment. He didn't notice the black shape poised above him on the gatepost. Willie turned his back on the mastiff ten times his size and kicked dirt in his muzzle. "You'll have to catch me first," he yipped, and darted through the iron bars into the yard.
"Why, you---" Prancer shook the dirt from his eyes and shouldered the gate open savagely. In an instant the cat was on his back, hissing violently and digging sharp claws deep into him. Prancer yowled with pain and tried to fall on his attacker, but Friday launched himself into the yard after Willie. He disappeared into the newly-planted shrubs next to the house.
"You guys are asking for it!" Prancer barked as he sprinted after Friday. He was at the shrubs a few seconds behind the cat, but his jaws closed on foliage, not fur. He thrashed about angrily, tearing up bushes and spitting them out onto the lawn. "You're going to die, cat!"
But Friday wasn't there. A happy yelp from around the corner of the house drew his attention and he rounded it to find Willie squatting in the carefully planted petunias. The stupid runt was lifting his leg at each plant. By Man, he would pay dearly for that!
He charged the terrier in a blind fury.
He was snapping at Willie's heels when he realized that he had stepped into a reinforced nylon net streched across the flower bed a foot and a half off the ground. Willie sprinted under the net and made tracks for the open ground of the yard. The net formed an almost-invisible grid of one-foot squares, and when Prancer jerked his head up and bolted after Willie, he tangled himself hopelessly in the nylon.
There was a sudden tug and a redwood trellis that the landscapers had attached to the side of the house and to the net came crashing down on top of him. Willie sprinted into the main body of the yard and Prancer discovered that his legs were free enough to charge after him.
"You'll die for this!" he howled. The net-and-trellis impediment would have stopped a lesser dog, but it merely slowed Prancer down. He was boiling mad. The net held together and he dragged the trellis into the yard behind him. The petunias were sheared off at ground level.
The chase gathered momentum. Willie ran flat out with Prancer at his heels. Prancer's yard sported a gazebo like the Dogfather's, except that it was constructed of delicate South African teak. There was a small opening its base and Willie shot into it fleeing from Prancer's wrath. Prancer waited angrily for the terrier to come out and into his jaws. He didn't.
Prancer looked up. That damn black cat was on the gazebo handrail, spraying odeur essence d'feline on the teak! He made the handrail in a leap but the cat was already at the opposite end of the gazebo, hissing at him and still spraying. Prancer lunged again and followed him over that handrail back into the yard.
His albatross of net and trellis ripped into the gazebo and jerked him to a sudden halt. He yanked with all his strength and crack! a roof support snapped. One edge of the structure caved in on the net and sheared off the trellis. Prancer resumed the chase.
The front hedges rustled again, undoubtedly the cat. Prancer tore out the bushes methodically, one at a time, eliminating all hiding places. But when the last bush had been pulled there was no trace of Friday. Prancer looked around with murder in his eye.
Smash! From inside the house, a window was shattered. Glass fell into the yard. Prancer jerked his head up and looked straight into the grinning jaws of Don Cortisone himself. Iron bars on the window prevented Prancer from lunging directly at the bulldog. The front door was cracked open. He shouldered it aside and stomped into the house.
Don Cortisone stood calmly in the hallway, facing his adversary. Prancer readied himself for a leap at the bulldog's throat, but whirled around as the door slammed shut behind him. He saw Willie jumping through the broken window and bars to safety. His and Scrapper's howling laughter drifted in from outside. Prancer turned back to the Dogfather.
"You son of a bitch!"
"Aren't we all, my friend. Come and get me, pedigree!"
Prancer charged and was instantly jerked back by the net. The door had closed on it! He struggled to extricate himself. That was useless; his head and legs were hopelessly tangled. He was trapped in his own house. Cortisone yawned at him and scratched an ear.
"You keep a messy house, pedigree. Look!"
Prancer looked. The house was gutted. The couch and stuffed chairs had been torn to shreds. Slobbery bits of fabric and foam were everywhere. The wet bar had been overturned and each bottle of booze smashed in the fireplace. He could see the faint reflection of a light and hear the refrigerator humming loudly from the kitchen. Food was scattered in a haphazard line from there to Don Cortisone's feet.
"I'll kill you!" Prancer howled. He strained at the net and bit it savagely with his teeth. No good: the damned thing was thin but reinforced! Damn his mistress and her precious flowers!
A new sound came through the broken window--one of the BMW's was pulling into the driveway! A screaming female voice joined the sound of the car. "What? WHAT THE HELL?"
Cortisone picked the last meat off a ham bone that he'd been working on and belched.
"That's my cue, pedigree. Love to stick around, but I'd just be in the way when the family dog greets his old lady after a hard day at the beauty parlor. You understand."
The BMW's engine died and its door slammed. Prancer's old lady was still looking at the damage to her grounds and screaming. "What in God's name has been going on? PRANCER?"
Cortisone tossed the ham bone at Prancer and bounced it off his nose. "The law of the jaw doesn't mean a thing," he said, "unless you back it up with brains. Sniff you later, sucker!" He turned and bounded out the back.
"No, noooo!!" Prancer struggled with his bonds.
Outside, the screams had risen to a fever pitch. "I should've NEUTERED that stupid dog long ago!"
Prancer pulled with all his strength at the netting. It would not give.
The knob turned and the front door opened.
A few days later, Friday greeted Cortisone at the edge of the stone pool. The Dogfather was hunched over a newspaper that had been pulled from the garbage. On page 7 was a picture of Prancer's caved-in gazebo and a brief story.
Friday eyed at the paper with disgust. "It should've been front page. Banner headline. What an insult!"
"Be grateful they buried it," Cortisone told him. "What we need now is peace and quiet, not publicity."
Friday wrinkled his nose. "You're right, of course. I hear talk among the humans about a leash law referendum next year."
"With luck they'll forget it by then." Cortisone nodded at the newspaper. "Says here that the old lady is home from the hospital. Seems she got tangled in Prancer's net and dragged around before he finally broke loose. Bruised but nothing broken. I hope she remembers it."
"You can count on that," Friday told him. "She's got a bowl of chopped steak by the door and an armed Pinkerton guard hiding in the bushes!"
The Dogfather snorted in amusement. "Anything new on Prancer?"
"Still gone." The cat's tail waved like an angry serpent. "He'll stay that way if he's got any brains."
"Oh, he's got 'em," Cortisone admitted, "and cohones too. The trick is knowing which to use when."
copyright (c) 1988 by Steve Schlich