Ch. 01: The Artful Dodger
The streets of New York City were always alive - bustling crowds, sizzling street food, obnoxious drivers, the City that Never Sleeps had it all. And all of it, from the snob-hill uptown to the hard-rocking downtown, was his. His playground. His kingdom. His city. For he was, of course, the undeniable King of New York. The Artful Dodger.
Today, the street-smart stray was sunbathing atop a taxi. Nothing out of the usual for him. Maybe later he'd find a girl or two and get… dodgering.
But not right now. Not when the scrumptious scent of a street vendor's chicken wafted to his keen nose.
"Aah…" Dodger sighed contently at the smell, before his stomach rumbled. When could a dog pass up the prospect of food? He licked his lips, sitting straight up on the yellow cab, "Breakfast."
The street vendor with the poultry in question was calling out to the passing crowd, "Chikin'! Ger yer' chikin'! Fresh an' juicy, ladies an' gents! New York's best chi- Hey! What tha'?"
Smooth and styled. Dodger laughed to himself as he made off with the goods, "Man, would Oliver a' gotten a kick outta- "
He stopped in the middle of the street. Oliver… that little orange cat who'd gotten close to Dodger. Maybe closer than any dog ever had.
For the first time all day, Dodger was sad. He felt so… alone. The mutt had been alone before - that came with growing up on the streets, surviving on your own - but now… Then again, Dodger always had the gang - Einstein, Francis, Tito, Rita, and their old human, Fagin. Maybe it wasn't really loneliness. He felt…
Abandoned. Dodger hadn't felt that way for ages, not since… well, it wasn't important. Point was, Oliver had ended that. The kid put an end to his loneliness, his abandonment… and then brought it all rushing back in one fell swoop.
Dodger let the chicken fall to the ground, and then lay down and whimpered.
"Ah, what'm I doin'? Get over yourself, Dodge…"
It was true, he had to pick himself up. The gang looked up to him as their leader. Besides, since when did the Artful Dodger get down in the dumps?
He grabbed the fowl and started back down the alley, humming his favorite (and self-written-and-produced) tune, "Why Should I Worry?" as he called it.
That was a mistake. The memory of performing his song for Oliver (and while trying to ditch him, that was) came flooding back.
"Oh, screw it," Dodger firmly told himself, "Just get going, ya' stupid mutt."
In a poorer part of New York, way up in the Bronx, four dogs were lying on a couple of chairs and a sofa in a run-down living room. The only female among them, a brown-furred Saluki, got up, stretched, and went over to her food bowl. That's right, ever since Fagin had finally landed a small job, he's been able to provide for his dogs much more regularly.
Fagin had even sold their old boat down at the abandoned pier for a small but fair price. With the money from that, and all that he'd saved up so far from his job, he could afford a shabby, run-down apartment.
Nowadays, old man Fagin was usually out late, working as much as he could to provide for himself and his five dogs.
An English bulldog lay on the sofa, staring at a book titled The Complete Works of William Shakespeare.
"Why do you stare at that thing all day, Francis? We can't read," the Saluki bluntly asked the bulldog.
Francis looked up with a huffy look on his face, "I do not expect a commoner to understand the beauty of The Bard's leaves, Rita."
"Yeah, whatever," the Saluki, Rita, chuckled to herself. She looked around at her companions. Tito, the hot-blooded little Chihuahua, and Einstein, a large, friendly, gray-coated Great Dane, were asleep. Francis, of course, was pouting over Rita's criticism of his choice of entertainment.
Four out of five are here, Rita thought to herself. Now where is-
"As the handsome and charmin' dog entered, his loyal fans cheered and applauded, not just out'a excitement for seein' him, but also for the tender and juicy chicken he had brought for them all to enjoy. You may proceed with the applause."
Rita rolled her eyes. How did Dodger get in perfect synch with her thoughts? That was a new one, even for him.
"Hey, Dodger, man, ya' got chikin'!" Tito exclaimed, bouncing up and down.
"Well, ya' didn't expect me to come back empty-handed, did ya'?"
Rita walked up to him and scoffed, "I did. Dodger, you know we don't steal anymore. Fagin provides for us more than ever now."
The white, brown-spotted mutt had a cocky look on his face, "Oh, please, Rita baby. What's the harm in a little fun? Besides, more food for us."
"But it's not ours! Dodge, we only stole 'cause we had to - we would've starved otherwise! Now we don't have to," she snapped at him and his idea of fun.
Dodger's grin disappeared.
"I went to a lot'a trouble to get more food for you guys. I always go to trouble for you guys. Can a dog get a little appreciation around here?"
She had just about had it. This was not the first time Dodger had come to the apartment with his stolen luxuries. He knew he wasn't supposed to anymore!
"Why can't you stop?" Rita almost yelled at him, "The rest of us have. But you- you just steal for fun! That's not stealing to survive, Dodger, it's just being reckless!"
"Dodger, old chap," Francis meekly put out, "I must concur with Rita. We truly do not need food in the same desperation as we did before."
The Great Dane, Einstein, awakened by their raised voices, looked at Dodger with a confused look, "But, uh, Dodger, what if you're, uh, stealing and you get caught?"
"I- That's all- " Dodger sputtered. He couldn't be angry with the slow but true dog. Einstein was the oldest of them, and, though slightly stupid, was always kind, "It's all part'a the thrill, big guy. Knowin' that the dog catchers could be on yer' tail at any moment, it's- it's exciting'."
"It's stupid," Rita glared at Dodger, "We. Don't. Steal. Right Einstein?"
"Yeah, we don't."
"Most certainly not."
"Well, uh, maybe once or twi- "
"Yah', yah', no stealin', man!"
"You got it Dodger? No stealing. Not anymore," Rita threw at him.
Absolutely infuriating. Dodger would've preferred it if she'd eaten the chicken and spat it back out in his face.
"I can't believe you all. Have you lost yer' street savoir faire?" Dodger barked at them, "You can turn you backs on the beat of the city, but I won't."
The red-scarfed mutt grabbed the chicken, then turned around and headed to the door, "I'm outta' here."
With that, he pushed though the doggy door and left them staring.
Rita sighed in exasperation, "He'll walk back in tomorrow with a new pair of sunglasses, pretending nothing's happened. Just watch."
Dodger sulked as he walked down the street, not feeling up to his usual strut.
First Oliver ditched me, now those ungrateful idiots are breathing down my neck, Dodger thought angrily. He needed a day out in the city to clear his head.
"I need to find a girl or two."
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Hello, wonderful readers! I completed this story a while ago, which was the first real story I'd ever written, but I've decided to add Author's Notes now. Truth be told, I would like to do a revised version of Departure since I'm not completely satisfied with its quality, but I don't want to make anyone re-read it.
Thanks for reading! Reviews are always appreciated.