Chapter One—The Unexpected
It’s my favorite time of the week—Sunday morning or Freeday, as I like to call it.
Freedays—when nobody goes to work, and I go with Lani to Central Park—are my only chance to look for Missy.
As always, I nudge Lani’s shoulder with my front left paw to awake her. Lani is my young master, and she works hard all week. I feel bad waking her up early on Freedays, but she doesn’t mind.
“OK, Ingo, I am getting up. I know, it’s our Central Park walk day. I’ll be with you in a moment.”
Of course, I hear the same thing every Freeday, and I know better. I usually give her two minutes before resorting to more aggressive methods. I jump up on Lani’s bed and start nuzzling her neck and cheek with my wet, cold nose.
“You’re right. I must get up. We only have till 9 a.m.”
Half asleep, my Master Lani heats her last night’s carry-out coffee in the microwave and jumps in the shower. Meanwhile, her alarm clock goes off, and I smack the button with my paw to stop the noise.
Lani has to work much harder than other people. She needs to earn the trust of her boss and co-workers because she was not born in this country, and in New York there is a lot of competition. She needs to prove herself, but she’s always been a hard-worker, like her dad. Speaking of her dad, I am sure he misses her terribly. Instead of having her family nearby, as she did in the old country, Lani is all alone, and all she does is work and spend time with me.
Yeah, moving to a new country, adjusting to life in the City, and learning a new language takes some doing.
After a few sips of her coffee, Lani grabs an apple, and we are off. We’ve done this every Freeday since we arrived in New York a bit more than a year ago. I love New York, and I love the fact that we live so close to the big park.
Walking through the City on Freeday is different than on weekdays. The pace of everything is much slower. The people and cars all take their time, and nobody is in the proverbial New York rush. There are fewer cars on the streets, and what people wear is different. All the business suits are gone, and many jeans, T-shirts, and sneakers show up. Fewer people are eating while walking. They are not rushing to work. All terraces and sidewalk eatery tables are full of chatting people having breakfast outside. The Big Apple is a much happier and more relaxed place on weekends.
We must hurry. I can only run freely in Central Park up to 9 a.m. Lani is eating her apple as we walk along. She knows I love apples, and she gives me a few big bites. They are sweet, sour, and crunchy. What’s not to like? Lani gets a bagel with a schmear of cream cheese at the corner, a cup of tea from a street vendor, and we head into the park.
It’s a beautiful early October day, and we are walking toward our favorite place, the Umpire Rock. Usually, when we arrive, Lani sits on one of the big rocks to enjoy her breakfast while I run around free. Along the walking path to our destination, I pick up some exciting smells from a bush. I try to pull her in that direction, but Lani makes me wait until she is seated in our spot. She sits on a special part of the rock that is nice and flat, with a little bump behind her to lean against.
It’s early, so we have a good hour before she has to put the leash back on me. Lani gives me a big chunk of her bagel. As she says, I “inhale it” and run to investigate the exciting smell in the bush.
“Ingo, Ingo, don’t go too far,” I hear her behind me. I turn, look back and what I see from a distance makes me sad. She’s all alone even here, with only cold, gray, huge rocks around her. She gets out of her pouch the book she is reading.
That tells me I am on my own for a while. I hear something, which stops me in my tracks. In the distance a man is calling,
“Missy, Missy, come ... where are you?”
Am I dreaming this? I must be. There must be hundreds of Missies in New York. Still, I owe it to myself to find out. Every week when we come to the park, I look for my dream girl, Missy. We’re pretty sure she lives with her master James somewhere in the City. At least, she did about a year ago when we moved here from Morania. Grandpa John—Lani’s father—told us that. He talked to his neighbor in Morania—the sister James had visited with his Missy the previous summer. I have a framed photograph of Missy we received from James’ sister, and I stare at it all the time.
I hear again the man calling Missy.
I’m running in the voice’s direction, and I see a man with a leash in his hand. He is looking all over for his dog. He’s a tall young man with a solid build and some hair growing out of his face’s bottom part. He sees me and comes close.
“Oh, wow, what a beautiful Cocker Spaniel. You’d make a great partner and friend for Missy.” He bends over, pets me. When he sees the medallion on my collar, he starts talking to me.
“I see your name is Ingo?”
I sit down in front of him and stare into his eyes for a long time. I start walking away slowly, looking back at him every few steps. He’s figured out fast that my stare means he should follow me. Good, now we are lightly running, the two of us. As we get to the smelling-bush, I stop. I look at him and he stops, too.
Some tiny noises are coming from the shadows beneath the bush, and I move closer very cautiously. I push a few branches with my nose, and what do I see? Baby kittens, all huddled together for warmth. I sniff them. Two of them catch on to my hairy ears. I gently grab one of the other two in my mouth and pull my head out of the bush.
“Ingo, what did you find? Oh, my goodness, baby pussycats. Let’s see how many there are.”
The young man gets down on all fours, reaches inside the bush, and pulls out one more little furry ball. There are four in total. One kitty is still hanging onto my ear for dear life.
Another one climbs up on top of my head, and one curls up next to my paw. The man grabs them all, and I continue leading him back to Lani. I check every few steps to make sure he follows.
With his arms full of squeaky puddies—that’s what we call cats at our house—the young man walks behind me, beaming at the fluffy treasure in his arms. We round the bend in the path, and there is Lani. From here, Lani looks like a teenager. In jeans, a white T-shirt, and a red baseball cap, she’s a skinny girl with a blond, short pony-tail. She puts her book back in her leather belly-pouch.
“Ingo, where have you been? You’re bringing a friend, I see,” says Lani, getting up from where she was seated on the rock.
“Hi, my name is Jim,” says the young man.
“I am Lani. Nice to meet you. Why are you walking around with an armload of kittens?”
“Well, Ingo wanted me to follow him, not sure why. I am looking all over the place for my lost dog Missy. She’s a white Cocker Spaniel with golden ears. I’m distraught, and I need to find her and—” He doesn’t get to finish what he was saying because Lani interrupts him. Her eyes are big and round with surprise.
“Do you have a sister in Morania?”
Jim is taken aback by her question. The expression on his face shows an even bigger surprise than Lani’s.
“Now, how on earth would you know that?”
“Jim,” she said, “Ingo, and I know Missy. The truth is we are both in love with her. We met her at your sister’s house in Morania last summer.”
“Yes,” I said in my way by doing a short “bow” bark and lots of tail-knob wagging. This is an incredible development. We lost Missy even before we found her.
It almost doesn’t make sense. What can I do? How are we going to figure out where she is?
“Well, let me put the leash on Ingo, and we’ll all go looking for her. When and how did she get lost?” asks Lani.
“Listen, what are we doing with the baby cats? I can take one of them home with me,” says Jim.
“I am sure it will be easy to find good homes for them. Let’s walk a little in areas with more people.”
“Lani, not Lana, please.”
“Sorry, Lani. I’ll tell you how I lost Missy. At about 7:30 this morning, we entered the park near Columbus Circle. I had unhooked Missy’s leash when a man, I think he was Canadian, asked me for directions to an address in the area. I pulled out my cell phone to look it up for him. The whole encounter didn’t take more than two to three minutes. When I looked up, Missy was gone. We walk every morning before 9 a.m. because dogs can run freely, without a leash. We’ve NEVER had a problem before.”
“I know, Jim, that’s why on Sundays I bring Ingo early to the park, too. I doubt Missy is still in the park. Somebody may have snatched her, got in a cab or car, and disappeared. Give Ingo the leash to smell, and let’s see if he can pick up her trail.”
We climb down off the Umpire Rock and start up the footpath. Soon, a lot of folks see us with the kitties and surround us. Two joggers stop, too. The passers-by adopt three of the four kitties before we know it, and Jim keeps the little boy-kitten he had chosen.
“Jim, we need to head back home. Our neighborhood is having a rummage sale today, and I promised to help.
“Okay, where do you guys live?” he asked.
“We only live a few blocks away, on 56th between 8th and 9th Avenues. What about you?”
“I live with my twelve-year-old son, Patrick, on West 58th, between 9th and 10th.
“I’ll take you to where she disappeared.”
After a while, he stops.
“Here’s where that guy stopped me for directions, and I last saw my Missy.”
He lowers the leash to me, and I sniff it at length. Yes, it is without a doubt my Missy’s scent. I know for sure now. I turn around a little and sniff the ground until I get a trace of the smell. I look up and bark once for YES.
“Ingo got the scent. Let’s follow him.”
The scent is leading me out of the park. I reach the end of Missy’s smell by the curb of the sidewalk, at the corner. My Lani guessed right, that they took her out of the park and to a car.
There’s nothing I can do from here. I start whimpering a little, my heart full of sadness.
“So, here is where they must have put her in the car.”
Jim excuses himself. He crosses the street to the median and speaks to a police officer. He returns and tells us the cop had seen a woman with a beautiful dog on a leash getting into a cab at about 7:30.
So, it is a dognapping. Without any doubt, it was premeditated because the woman had brought a leash with her. The Canadian is the accomplice, for sure.” Jim is thinking for a moment and says,
“Now, that I think about it, he made sure he kept me with my back to the park entrance. He also wore fancy loafers, not proper walking shoes like a tourist.”
It breaks my little dog-heart. Being lost is one thing but being stolen on purpose is another. Missy could be anywhere in this big city.
My Lani sees how upset I am and tries to make it better for me.
“Ingo-Baby, don’t be so sad. We’re going to find her. We will need to think about how to do it.”