PART ONE: MOVIN' OUT
"Say Goodbye to Hollywood"
Just Another Day in April, Fifth Avenue, 1988
He heard his city most every day. She sounded in the screech of tires and the honking traffic. She was skyscrapers and cold bagels in the morning rush, a stroll in Central Park as the sun went down, or a subway ride at 3 a.m.
But Dodger wasn't listening today. He was too preoccupied with the feline in front of him—which meant he'd truly lost his edge in the canine world. Hating cats was a cardinal rule of doghood. Yet here he was, high-fiving an orange tabby kitten.
Well, he would've if Oliver hadn't swiped his paw away at the last minute.
"Hey," Dodger kept his voice smooth, "you're okay, for a cat."
The smile on that kid's face was all the edge he needed.
"We'll keep a spot open for ya in tha gang. Vice president. Uptown chapter." Dodger sauntered down the sidewalk. His gang was ahead of him, Oliver was behind. When he got to the sidewalk, he stopped. Dodger let himself look back. "Later, kid."
Dodger boarded a passing truck, hopping from one car to the next. Now he heard her loud and clear. He was in that beat, that rhythm, and when Dodger was hooked into that tempo, what could he do but sing with his pals? After all, the city sang with them.
His gang, the Company, jumped off cars and sped past stop signs. Why should they worry about traffic violations? Why should they care if the light was red or green? The city was theirs. The city never slept, and the city never changed.
Dodger never wanted to stop singing with them. Maybe it was the pavement blurring as they zoomed on by, or maybe it was the smell of fresh hotdogs in the air, but Dodger wanted to live in that moment till the lights went out in his New York City heart.
End of a Disappointing June, Greenwich Village, 1988
Rita wasn't exactly thrilled. None of them were. Some weeks ago, Fagin had rushed into the creaky houseboat and began packing his things. He didn't have much to his name. Early the next day, Fagin had forced them to leave the houseboat for the middle of the city.
They were currently hauled up in the basement of an abandoned building in the Village. The floor was carpeted, at least, but there was noisy ventilation above their heads. Water dripped on them from the pipes. The building felt unstable at times. But the five of them at least had a place to live, and for that, Rita was grateful.
The brown Saluki girl was resting on a patchwork couch they'd found at Goodwill. Einstein, the gray Great Dane and oldest dog there, was snoozing in Fagin's recliner chair—one of the few things they'd kept from the boat.
Rita hopped off the couch and went to the food bowls in the corner of the basement. A hairy rat wearing a green armband around his head was stuffing his face. "That's enough, Tito. You've eaten twice today." She flicked him away with her paw.
The Chihuahua swallowed the kibble and yipped, "No fair! No fair! I'm hungry."
"We're all hungry, Tito, but we gotta make it last. Fagin can't afford dog food every week." She ate a small amount from the bowl. "No splurging."
"Yeah, yeah." Tito darted over to an English Bulldog lying on Fagin's mattress. He jumped on his back. "Whatcha' reading, Frankie, huh? Whatcha' reading?"
"My name is Francis, and I am not reading. We dogs cannot read." Francis sniffed disdainfully and drew the book—The Complete Works of William Shakespeare—closer to him. "I am simply admiring the Bard's leaves."
"Admire away, bud." Rita chuckled. She looked around at her companions. Einstein was on the recliner and Tito was bouncing up and down on Francis's back. Four out of five were here, which just left a certain scruffy-furred, bandana-wearing rascal.
"As tha handsome devil entered tha scene, his loyal fans applauded, not just outta' sheer joy for seeing him, but also for tha tender an' juicy steak he'd stolen for 'em to enjoy." The one-and-only Dodger took an extravagant bow. "Ya may proceed with tha applause."
His fur was white and gray with brown spots here and there, but where the spots ended and the dirt began, she couldn't tell. Dodger was some kind of terrier mutt—Parson Russell, she mostly thought—but he took pride in being a little bit of everything. Dodger had a constant stench about him, like trash cans and spilled gasoline, but Rita was used to it by now.
"Ooh, Dodger, man! Ya got us steak? Medium or well-done?"
"Rare," Dodger threw the meat at their paws, "like my talents."
Tito, Francis, and Einstein tore into the steak, but Rita gave it the evil eye. "You know Fagin asked us to keep a low profile. He said no going outside and no more stealing."
"Please. What Fagin don't know won't hurt him." Dodger swallowed a bite, then walked around the basement. He glared at cracks in the walls and ceiling. "Besides, ain't like Fagin knows what's best anymore. What was he thinking, moving us here?"
"Okay, so it's not ideal," Rita muttered, looking around the basement with a sigh, "but I'm sure Fagin had his reasons." Just then, a drop of water splashed on her nose.
"Well, I sure preferred tha houseboat," Dodger grumbled.
When he passed by her, Rita smelled saltwater in his fur. He wasn't wet, but Dodger must've been at the waterfront. "You were at the docks again, weren't you?"
"What if I was?" He shuffled his paws. "I like sleeping on tha old boat. Not like anyone else is using it, right?" Dodger yawned, like it was all no big deal.
He really shot her nerves sometimes. "I can't believe you. First you go out, then you keep stealing. News flash: We have food, Dodger. We don't need your steak."
"Ya prefer kibble? It's like eating cardboard." He snatched a bite of steak, chewing with his mouth wide open. "I have more refined tastes." Dodger burped after swallowing. "Look, I'm leader of tha Company, remember? As leader, I say we keep stealing an' we go out whenever we want. End of discussion."
"This is a democracy, old chap. We put such things to a vote."
Dodger turned on Francis. "Ya saying ya don't agree with me?"
"Well… it's just that Fagin asked us to lay low. He seemed awfully serious."
"Ah, c'mon, guys! Tha Company I know is way cooler than this."
The back-and-forth arguing woke Einstein. He listened for a moment and looked at Dodger, confused. "If Fagin said we shouldn't, then we shouldn't. Fagin always looks out for us." Rita watched Dodger gape at him. Einstein was a hard one to argue with.
"We're all tired of being cooped up down here, but it can't be for much longer." Rita tried a gentler tone of voice. "Don't be like this, Dodger baby. Don't be mad."
"Don't tell me how to feel," he snapped at her. "Let's put it to a vote like Frankie said. Everyone, bark if ya say we ignore Fagin an' do what we want."
Dodger barked. No one else made a sound.
"I can't believe this. Did all of ya get neutered an' not tell me?" He rolled his eyes like a teenage girl. "Turn your backs on my city, if that's what ya really want. I'll keep tha steaks to myself from now on."
"This ain't about steaks, man." Tito tiptoed up to him. "Fagin said stay inside."
"We've always listened to our benevolent benefactor before," Francis chimed in.
Rita narrowed her eyes. Dodger's eyes were going from Tito to Francis to Einy, who hadn't even said anything. "Dodge… what's really bothering you?"
"Nothing's bothering me, Rita babe." He gave a goofy grin. "Just don't see why ya guys are worrying so much." He whipped around, marched up the staircase, and left the basement behind. The Company was speechless.
"He's just being dramatic." Rita sighed. "I know Dodger. He'll be back in a few days with a new pair of sunglasses, pretending like nothing happened."
Fourth of July in the Big Apple, Midtown, 1988
But several days later, Dodger still hadn't returned. He had no desire to. Dodger would take running free in Manhattan over being stuck in a potentially-dangerous basement any day, no matter what Fagin said. No one told him what to do.
"Just smell those pretzels!" He could practically taste the salt. "Just hear that afternoon traffic!" He could listen to those honks and horns all day. There was no place like Midtown, New York, right smack in the middle of everything.
"Can't believe they'd ever give this up." Dodger breathed in that clean city air. "I tell ya, they're crazy. Ungrateful jerks." The pigeons must've agreed with him, because they cooed and nodded their heads. "Man, I gotta' take my mind off 'em. I need a girl or two."
That made him perk up. Dodger ran to the edge of the concrete and jumped at a passing car—landing him on the roof. Now, he'd been car surfing the city since he was a pup. It'd gotten him from Uptown to the Bronx, and now, it took him to the ever-bustling, ever-crowded Times Square. Broadway billboards lit up the sky. Neon pink lights advertised less respectable shows. "Cause really, where else would I go to find a lady but Times Square?"
Dodger sniffed and peered through the crowd. He spotted a lovely Beagle girl on the other side of the street. She wore a pink collar attached to a leash, but the woman holding onto it was busy arguing with an unshaven man.
"I don't get why you're doing this, Brenda."
"It's been bad for a while. I'm just too lazy, and you could never afford life in the city. Money's been tight, and, well… it's not like it used to be. I'm sorry."
"Don't do this, babe! We had something once. What changed?"
"We both changed, Eddie. People change. I'm sorry."
The man and woman went a little ways off, leaving the Beagle tied to a bike rack. She was focused on her owner's shouting match, so Dodger's approach went unnoticed. "Rough patch for 'em, eh? Drama at home is tha worst."
"Hmph!" She stuck up her nose. "I don't talk to filthy street mutts!"
"Me neither, sweetie. If ya see any, let me know an' I'll chase 'em off."
"If you get a single flea on me, I swear I'm going to—"
"Ooh, prissy, prissy! Calm down, toots. You're too stuck-up for me."
The Beagle's eyes went wide at the sudden rejection. She ran to a store window to check her reflection, and Dodger was reminded of a certain award-winning poodle on Fifth Avenue. He strutted off, laughing like a maniac.
"Ah, man, what a hoot!" Dodger looked back at her and narrowed his eyes. "I ditch ya, girly, not tha other way around." No one ditched him. Not anymore.
Dodger groaned at himself. He was here to have fun, not to mope. Still, Dodger couldn't help looking at all the couples getting ready to see the fireworks tonight, all the friends and family getting a spot in the crowded city, and feeling… well, a bit lonely. Problem was, whenever Dodger wanted company, he went to the Company.
"But not tonight," he decided. "I ain't going back just yet."
Which meant he needed somewhere to sleep that night. No worries. He'd spent most of his life finding places to snooze. There weren't many spots to crash around Times Square, so Dodger went farther down the street, turning at the corner of the block.
He ran into a crowd, winding through the maze of legs and coming out with a wallet—sometimes he just couldn't help himself. Dodger's first thought was to take it to Fagin, but then he remembered his thieving skills were no longer appreciated there. He threw the wallet on the ground and stormed off. Seconds later, a man yell that he'd been robbed.
Honestly, he had no idea what to do with himself. Dodger wanted to be with someone, but he couldn't stand the thought of crawling back to the Company. Girls were fun, but he never took them seriously nowadays, and they never left him happy.
Dodger's nose twitched. There were food vendors everywhere, but he recognized this particular smell. Only one man in the city cooked hotdogs with that much grease.
"Fourth of July hotdogs, people!" Old Louie was as repulsive as a New York sewer, and he smelled like one, too. His black hair was oilier than his hotdogs, his rolls of fat so huge that Dodger often wondered how he managed to stand up properly. Just looking at him, Dodger remembered stealing a roll of all-beef kosher franks with the help of a naïve tabby kitten. Not to mention the fantastic song he'd sung that day. Man, that was such a blast.
And suddenly, Dodger knew who he wanted to be with.
A Night Watching Fireworks, Fifth Avenue, 1988
Oliver's day had been exhausting. Fun, but exhausting. The Foxworth family had a Fourth of July picnic in the park, all without the help of their trusted butler—Winston had the holiday off—and they'd packed sandwiches and lemonade all by themselves. Georgette hadn't been thrilled to tag along. "It's so hot out here! I'm dying!" But Jenny's parents were eager to spend time with their daughter, especially after April.
Her mother and father were now tucking Jenny into bed. David Foxworth kissed her on the forehead. "We'll leave the window open so you can see the fireworks." He was a tall man with prematurely gray hair, a bushy mustache, and constant bags under his eyes.
May Foxworth, a lovely woman with blonde curls and a gentle smile, kissed her daughter's cheek. "If you have nightmares, we'll be downstairs in the living room. Sleep well." Jenny hugged her tightly. Oliver pawed up to them and mewed.
"Oliver wants a kiss, too." Jenny held him up. Her mother kissed his forehead. Mr. and Mrs. Foxworth hovered by the door before finally leaving the bedroom. Jenny was asleep in minutes, but Oliver heard talking outside the door. He tiptoed over and caught a brief snippet of her parents' conversation.
"—think the therapy is really helping. Jen hasn't had a nightmare in days."
"Oh, I hope so. I'm glad that awful mobster is dead. Is that wrong?"
"I don't know, dear. Let's not dwell on it."
Oliver went to the open window and gazed out at the city. A million lights shone from a thousand buildings. Who needed stars when you lived in the Big Apple? Sitting by the window, Oliver caught wind of a familiar stink. It smelled like garbage bins and engine smoke, stale bacon and back alley cigarettes. It smelled like…
"Dodger!" The mutt was climbing up the rusty fire escape into Jenny's bedroom.
"Hiya, kiddo. I was hoping you'd be home."
Oliver rubbed against his matted fur. "What are you doing here?"
"I was just… I dunno. Needed somewhere to spend tha night."
"Well, you're always welcome here."
"Right now, that means a lot to me, kid."
He trudged to the fluffy rug and flopped down. Oliver might've had a long day, but Dodger looked completely beat. He ran to the mutt's side. "What's wrong, bro?"
"Ya ever have a friend chew ya out for no good reason?"
"It… happened to me once."
"Right, so ya know how I feel. I bring tha Company a steak, an' they completely shut me down! Fagin's saying we gotta keep a low profile—no stealing, no leaving tha basement. An' no one takes my side." He rolled over like he was playing dead. "Everything is different."
"Since Fagin moved you to that basement, you mean?"
"I didn't think I'd miss tha houseboat so much. But it ain't just that. My own gang… Feels like they're turning their backs on me." Dodger nuzzled his head against Oliver's and gave a great sigh. "Makes me prefer spending time here."
"I'm glad to have you." Oliver settled down beside him. He'd first met the Company in April, but in the months since, no one had visited him more than Dodger.
They watched the first firework of the night shoot into the sky and blow up. Red, white, and blue flashed and sparkled over the skyscrapers. Another one went off, then another, one like a white pinwheel, the next like a red and blue chandelier in the sky. The whole city was lit up with color and sound. Oliver couldn't help gasping. "I've never seen these before."
"A fireworks show? It's nothing. They do it every year." Dodger shrugged, then yawned and closed his eyes. "You're not scared, are ya?"
He laid his head on Dodger's stomach. "With you here? Never."
"Absitively, kiddo. Absitively."
One Rainy Winter Night, East Side Bronx, 1985
He remembered being cold and wet that night.
Was the city always this cold, or would it go away after a while? He hoped it'd go away. All he had was his mother for warmth. The pup used to have two siblings, but he hadn't seen them for a while. Maybe they'd overslept and been left behind. They moved around a lot. He'd much rather they just pick one good spot and settle down.
His white, gray, and brown-spotted fur was thin and coated with wet dirt. The pup curled up against his mother's belly to keep dry. Tonight, they were sleeping on newspaper under a tin roof in a narrow alleyway. Rain pitter-pattered above their heads.
But when he opened his eyes that night, his mother was gone.
"Momma?" The pup ran out of the alleyway. "Where'd ya go?"
He saw her just down the sidewalk, under a flickering streetlamp. She turned around. Her eyes were wet with tears. "Don't follow me, baby. He'll find you." She walked him back to the alley, sat him down on the newspaper, and licked his head. "Just go back to sleep."
"No! I wanna stay with ya." He threw himself at her paws.
She brushed him off. "Go to sleep, baby." He whimpered but closed his eyes. He felt her breath by his ear. "Keep your dream alive. Dreaming is still how the strong survive."
He heard her trudge out of the alley, sobbing quietly. He wanted to sleep like she'd asked, but he just couldn't. He was scared. He wouldn't let her go.
The pup raced after her, but there was a patch of ice on the sidewalk and he slipped and slid into a gutter. He was too big to fall down the drain, but rainwater was flooding over him and he couldn't move. He was stuck. "Momma! Momma, help!"
He saw her just up ahead, hovering on the corner. "Momma!" She looked. She turned her back to him. His mother disappeared around the block.
He was stuck in that gutter till it was light out. It'd stopped raining, and he was able to pull himself out and onto the sidewalk. The pup ran through all the nearest alleys, but the rain had washed her scent and paw prints away. She was nowhere to be found.
Well, it didn't matter. She'd be back for him soon. He was sure of it.
Overhead, a streetlamp flickered and sparked out.