by Wendy Orr
illustrated by Olga and Aleksey Ivanov
Tyler could hear Max howling as soon as he turned onto his street.
Max the Dax never howled, except when Tyler’s mom, Officer Olson, drove up the driveway with her police siren on—she liked doing that when she finished work the same time as Tyler finished school. But school had let out early today because of the Grand Parade.
The parade that opened the county fair was the biggest event of the year. There would be brass bands, firefighters and police, jugglers, popcorn sellers, baton twirlers, fancy horses, and performing dogs. Tyler’s mom would be marching with the other police officers—but the parade didn’t start for two more hours. Right now she was still at work, and there was no siren to be heard.
If Max was howling, then something was wrong.
Tyler started to run.
* * *
Max was a black weiner dog with tan bits on his chest like a bikini top, twitchy tan eyebrows, and a tan nose. His legs were short and stumpy, his back was long, and his bark was as deep and strong as the bark of Officer Olson’s police dog, Gus.
Gus was a German shepherd; he was very smart and very well trained. Tyler’s mom said he knew more about right and wrong than most people did. Sometimes he stole bones from Max and dropped them over the front fence, to remind Max that he was bigger and stronger, but Tyler’s mom said he was just teasing.
Lately Gus had been much too busy to tease Max. He was the only police dog in town, and two weeks ago the poodlenappings had begun.
Cassandra Caniche’s silver poodle was the first to disappear. Cassandra herself was as elegant and graceful as any prizewinning poodle. She ran the Poodle Parlor, and when she’d washed and cut her poodle customers’ wool, she spun and wove it into wonderful capes and coats.
But now every poodle that had been groomed at Cassandra’s parlor had disappeared. Tyler’s mom and Gus had searched everywhere, but they hadn’t found a single clue.
By the day of the parade, eleven poodles were missing.
* * *
Tyler grabbed the emergency key from under a rock. He was supposed to go next door to tell Mrs. Lacey he was home before he picked up Max, but he couldn’t wait to find out what was wrong with his dog. His hands were sweating as he unlocked the door and tapped in the security code.
Max stopped howling when he saw Tyler, but he whined restlessly at the front door, hackles prickling and brown eyes anxious. He didn’t even ask for a pat.
Something was badly wrong.
Tyler grabbed his phone. He had just pressed “Mom” when Mrs. Lacey pounded at the front door.
“Have you got Pippa?” she gasped.
Pippa the poodle was Max’s very best dog friend. She had creamy curls and long dark eyelashes. If she and Max hadn’t played together for a few days, Pippa would bounce up and down in her yard, her silky ears flapping high over the fence, until Max started digging. Max had short stubby legs, but his shoulders were strong, and his paws were nearly as big as Gus’s. When he dug a tunnel from his yard to Pippa’s, dirt sprayed so far out behind him it disappeared like magic.
Now it was Pippa who had disappeared like magic.
Pippa had been poodlenapped.
* * *
“Tyler?” said his mom’s voice.
“Max!” shouted Tyler, and tossed the phone to Mrs. Lacey as the dachshund slipped between his legs.
The little dog raced across the lawn to Mrs. Lacey’s back gate. He was whining so pitifully that Tyler let him in so that he could see for himself that Pippa was gone.
Max ran straight up to the back door. A chunk of raw steak was on the top step, and the dachshund gulped it down before Tyler could stop him.
“That’s strange!” thought Tyler. Mrs. Lacey always cooked Pippa’s dinner and fed her in the kitchen.
Max checked the steps for more food and lolloped through the open dog door.
“Even stranger!” thought Tyler. Pippa’s dog door had been locked tight since the first poodlenapping.
But the flap had been unscrewed from the outside—and a scrap of navy blue fabric was caught in the corner of the dog door.
Mrs. Lacey, when she wasn’t wearing a creamy Pippa-wool coat that Cassandra had woven, wore mostly pink. She hated navy blue because, when she was six, she’d fallen out of a boat while she was wearing her brand-new sailor suit. She’d never worn that color again.
Tyler pulled the scrap out and put it in his pocket.
He called Max, and the dachshund’s nose appeared through the door. His head and front legs followed, and finally his back legs and tail. He slinked down the steps and scratched at the gate to the carport.
Mrs. Lacey opened the door. “Come in,” she said, sniffing sadly. “Your mom’s on her way.”
Tyler followed her back into her house. Mrs. Lacey plunked down at her kitchen table and burst into tears. “All the time I was out shopping, I was thinking about the fun we’d have going to the parade to watch your mom and Gus. Then I opened the door, ready for Pippa to jump up the way she does, with her front paws around my neck … but she wasn’t here!”
Tyler didn’t know what to do. Seeing Mrs. Lacey cry was almost as bad as wondering where Pippa was. He gave her a box of tissues and a hug, just like she used to do for him when he was little. Then he fixed her a cup of coffee. That made her smile, but she still couldn’t stop crying.
“Mom and Gus will find Pippa,” Tyler reassured her, and looked outside to see if they were coming.
The yard was empty, front and back.
Max was gone too.
A cold hand of fear closed tight around Tyler’s neck, but as he jumped off the back steps, the fear burst into a fiery rage. No one was going to steal his dog!
Then he saw the tunnel. Max hadn’t been stolen—he’d dug under the fence and escaped through the carport. Tyler raced down the driveway, but there was no sign of a short-legged, long black dog.
Tyler started to run.
* * *
Max was tracking.
Max had always been a pet, but his great-great-great-grandparents had been hunting dogs, and Max’s nose was a sniffing, tracking, hunting nose. That nose followed the scent of Pippa and the poodlenapper out to the carport and locked on to the smell of the vehicle they’d driven away in.
Being a small dog who lives with a police dog is a bit like being a little boy with a grown-up brother—sometimes Max wished he could go to work every day doing exciting things, instead of staying home all alone, waiting for Tyler to get home from school. But right now he wasn’t thinking about Gus, or Tyler, or anything at all except following that scent.
Luckily the dognapper had taken quiet back streets. Max was running along the scent trail of the tire closest to the sidewalk, but it was still a precarious place for a small dog.
* * *
Tyler ran as fast as he could to where their street met a busy road. It was a good plan, because that would have been the most dangerous way of all for Max to go.
It was a good plan, except that it wasn’t the way Max had gone.
Tyler turned down the busy road and kept on running until he heard a police siren.
People on the road stared as a police car, with a large German shepherd in the back, pulled up beside the boy. Tyler didn’t notice the stares. He jumped into the back seat beside Gus.
“Max has gone too!” he gasped. “I think he’s following the dognapper.”
“He’s not a trained tracker,” said his mom. “He could be anywhere!”
She cruised slowly down the street for a mile and then turned around. “He couldn’t have gotten farther than this. We’ll go back to Mrs. Lacey’s and let Gus start tracking properly.”
* * *
Mrs. Lacey had been so shocked when Max disappeared too that she knew she had to do something. By the time Tyler and his mom returned, she was knocking on the door across the road, asking if they’d seen anyone go to her house that morning or seen Max run away half an hour ago.
She’d been to three houses already, and no one had seen anything.
“Only the parcel delivery van,” said one neighbor.
“I haven’t ordered anything!” Mrs. Lacey exclaimed.
“Well, that’s what I thought it was,” said the neighbor. “It was a white van—or maybe cream. Actually, I think it was light brown.”
“That’s very helpful,” said Officer Olson, who had joined Mrs. Lacey and was jotting everything down in a notebook.
Mrs. Lacey and Tyler showed his mom Pippa’s open dog door and Max’s tunnel from the backyard to the carport.
“Seek!” Tyler’s mom ordered.
Gus sniffed at the tunnel, then trotted along the driveway and down the road, away from the busy street Tyler had run to.
“I’ll go on asking the neighbors,” said Mrs. Lacey. She started for the next house.
Tyler jogged after Gus. He couldn’t help thinking that if he’d turned that way the first time, he might have found Max already.
His mom cruised slowly behind in the police car, following Tyler, who was jogging after Gus, who was tracking Max, who was hunting the poodlenapper who’d stolen Pippa.
* * *
Max was still running along the side of the road with his nose to the ground. He was tracking so hard, he hadn’t noticed how sore his paws were or how thirsty he was, but his legs were moving more slowly and he was panting heavily.
The street had turned into a country road. The houses were big, with wide lawns and tall fences. There were exciting country smells of horses, sheep, other dogs, rabbits, and squirrels. Max would have loved to stop and sniff if he hadn’t been so busy tracking Pippa.
Then the scent led Max up the driveway to a building humming with hair dryers. Chemical shampoo smells wafted out, drowning everything else, and Max had to circle for a moment before he found Pippa’s own poodley, best-friend scent again. He followed it out of the driveway and on down the road.
Half a mile along was a huge old house, with the widest lawns and tallest fences of all. It had black chimneys, tiny windows, and pointy Rapunzel towers. The fence and gates were black iron with sharp spears on top; the bars were so close together that Max had to put his nose right up to them to see through.
But Max wasn’t staring. He was sniffing, and even though he couldn’t see them, he could smell dogs. Lots of dogs. And somewhere in that rich bouquet of dog scents, he could smell Pippa.
Max bayed his big, deep bark, and from a hidden pen behind the house, he heard Pippa’s shrill yip.
Max started to dig.
* * *
Tyler was in the police car with his mom. He was getting more and more worried. If he’d become too tired to run any farther, how could Max still be tracking, on his six-inch-long legs? Even Gus was starting to look tired.
Then Gus circled in a hairdresser’s driveway. Officer Olson parked the car and went inside.
Excitement and fear spidered up Tyler’s throat. Any second now, his mom was going to find his dog and maybe Pippa too. But what if the dognapper was still in there?
His mother came back out just as Gus found the scent again. “No one there has seen a dog all day,” she said.
* * *
Inside the dark house, a man was throwing a torn navy blue shirt into his trash can when he heard a deep bark.
He shuddered. He was sure it was the same police dog he’d heard that morning, from the house next door to the beautiful poodle. It had made him shake so badly, he’d nearly dropped her as he ran to the van.
Now the big-voiced dog was at his gates. He needed to get out of there fast, before it brought the police to his door.
The van was still backed up against the poodle pen. Two minutes later, it was tearing down the driveway.
* * *
The fence was set deep in the ground, and Max was head down, with dirt spraying out behind him. He was digging too hard to hear the electric gates swish open.
He did hear the skid of gravel as the van sped onto the road—but once Max was digging, he couldn’t stop. The heavy gates clanged shut, and he dug even faster.
From inside the speeding police car, Tyler stared at the huge old house with the black iron fence and gates. A cloud of dirt was spraying out from under the fence. In the middle of the cloud of dirt, he could see the tip of a long black tail.
“Max!” Tyler screamed, and his mother slammed on the brakes.
Max slithered out of the tunnel and into the garden. He sniffed the air and knew Pippa had gone. He turned around and crawled back under the fence to Tyler.
Tyler hugged him. So did his mom. She checked that the little dog wasn’t hurt and lifted him into the back seat.
“You’ve gotten us this far, Max!” she said as they jumped back into the car. “Now let’s finish the job!” She spoke into her police radio and took off after the disappearing cloud of dust.
The siren screamed; the light flashed; houses and lawns blurred past. Tyler sat tight, holding Max. He’d never been with his mom when she was chasing a bad guy. He’d never gone anywhere so fast!
But the van was too far ahead. They were still two blocks behind when they reached the town. They could see the van turn onto Main Street.
By the time they got there, it had disappeared.
“We’ll never catch him now!” exclaimed Tyler. There was so much traffic, they couldn’t see ahead—and there were so many side streets and alleys that they could never guess which one the van might have turned down.
The police radio crackled. Tyler couldn’t hear what the officer on the other end was saying, but it made his mom smile.
“There’s something the dognapper doesn’t know about Main Street today,” she said as the police car inched along through the traffic and the crowds thronging both sides of the street. “All the side roads are blocked off. The road we just came in on was closed as soon as we turned off it—there’s only one way the van can go.”
“The parade!” exclaimed Tyler.
His mom nodded. “But I guess Gus and I won’t be marching this year!”
Tyler always felt proud watching his mom and her dog lead the other police officers down the street. In fact, he loved everything about the parade: floats, fire engines, and high-stepping horses. Sometimes he even wished that he and Max belonged to a club or could do tricks so that they could march too.
But rescuing Pippa was more important than a month of parades.
The road ended at the fairground parking lot. It was full, and nearly every vehicle in it was a van: vans for cotton candy and popcorn; changing-room vans for acrobats and clowns; vans full of toys and prizes; vans for selling arts and crafts, homemade brownies, and homegrown apples.
And one van hiding a stolen poodle.
Tyler’s mom got Gus out of the car and gave his spare leash to Tyler for Max. “It’s too hot for you to stay in the car,” she said, “but remember, this is police business. You and Max are not to get involved!”
They started around the outside edge of the parking lot, Gus striding proudly in front, sniffing each vehicle as he passed. Tyler and Max had to jog to keep up.
The parade was about to start. Tyler paused to watch. Bands were playing, jugglers were juggling, clowns were clowning, and dogs in sparkly collars were quivering on their leashes. Crowds were streaming through the exit, racing for the best spots along the parade route.
Suddenly Max began to bark.
As the dachshund’s deep voice echoed through the parking lot, a man sprinted toward the parade, knocking over a baby in a stroller and two kids on bikes. There was a flash of silver as he threw something into the ditch beside the parking lot exit … and then he disappeared into the crowd.
“Not good!” said Tyler’s mom in a voice that meant she was so angry she was scared she’d say something really bad. “If we’d found the vehicle, I could have sent Gus after him, but I don’t have anything for Gus to sniff!”
“I might,” said Tyler. “I found this in Pippa’s dog door.” He pulled the scrap of navy blue material out of his pocket.
His mother took it and grinned. “Thanks, partner—that’s exactly what we need! It’ll have the dognapper’s scent on it—Gus can easily track it.”
She held the scrap out for the big dog to sniff. “Seek!” she commanded, and disappeared into the crowd with Gus.
“Stay here!” she called over her shoulder to Tyler. “If I’m not back in ten minutes, call Mrs. Lacey!”
But Max was already tugging Tyler forward. In the next row of vehicles was a gray van with dirty license plates and windows up against its roof. Every few seconds, the tips of two floppy, creamy ears floated into the window and down again.
As they reached the van, they could hear excited yipping.
“Pippa!” Tyler shouted. He grabbed the back door handle and pulled—but the van was locked tight. Even the windows were sealed shut. The air inside would soon be dangerously hot. They had to get her out before that happened!
“Keys!” thought Tyler, remembering that flash of silver. He raced back to the exit with Max and jumped down into the ditch.
The keys weren’t there—they had to be in the pipe under the road. Tyler threw himself onto his stomach to peer into it. He couldn’t see anything except black; he couldn’t reach anything except mud and slime.
He wiggled back, and Max wriggled in.
Ten minutes later, a slimy black nose appeared at the other end of the pipe. A long, muddy body slinked out. Clamped tight in a strong, muddy jaw was a key ring with one dangling silver key.
They raced back to the van. Pippa yipped once, but she’d stopped leaping.
The key worked. The door swung open.
Twelve black poodles rushed to greet them.
* * *
Tyler had been so sure he’d seen Pippa that he’d broken into a stranger’s van. Where was the cream-colored poodle now?
But while Tyler was still figuring out what to do, Max had hopped into the van. Now he was bursting with joy: licking, sniffing, and dancing with one of the black poodles, exactly the way he did with Pippa.
The tips of this poodle’s ears were pale and creamy.
“Pippa?” said Tyler, and the black poodle with creamy ears jumped to his shoulders, with her arms around his neck.
Tyler patted her, and his hand came away black.
“So that’s why the dognapper went to the hairdresser’s!” Tyler said. “But he didn’t take Pippa in with him; he just bought the dye!”
The van was getting hotter and hotter. The dogs were panting, and there was no water. He had to get them out of there.
A long rope was coiled under the front seat. Tyler tied it to the handle of Max’s leash and then looped a leash length through the ring on Pippa’s collar and knotted it too. One by one, he took the poodles out of the van, tying the rope to each collar so that all twelve poodles were strung out in a long line behind Max. There was just enough rope left for him to hold.
He looked around the parking lot. His mom was nowhere in sight. It had been more than ten minutes since he’d seen her—time to call Mrs. Lacey.
Except that his phone was on Mrs. Lacey’s kitchen table. And he couldn’t even stay where he was, because thirteen thirsty dogs were pulling him to a water trough at the start of the parade.
The band was already blaring its way down the street, followed by two rows of police officers and firefighters, a row of kids twirling batons, and horses with white-shirted, red-cowboy-hatted riders.
Clowns and jugglers tumbled along, weaving in and out of the groups of marchers. One of the clowns ran right to the start of the parade, grabbing the bandleader’s baton and conducting wildly.
The crowd laughed and cheered—and then gasped as an enormous German shepherd leapt into the air and knocked the clown to the ground. It held him there until Officer Olson ran up to clap handcuffs onto the clown’s wrists. Two other police officers stepped out of the line to help her, and the crowd cheered again, thinking it was all part of the parade.
Tyler’s mom looked up and saw Tyler being towed by Max and twelve poodles. The poodles ran even faster when they saw the handcuffed clown, passing everyone till they were nearly at the front, right behind the band.
So Tyler, Max, and the twelve black poodles followed the band and led the marching police officers and firefighters, the baton-twirling kids, and all the rest of the parade. It was a long route, right through the town, past houses and apartment buildings, past the town hall, hospital, and schools, past corner stores and shopping malls.
The band marched to the bandstand in the middle of the park to play one final song. Tyler looked around the crowd. He couldn’t see his mother, he was hot and thirsty, and he had thirteen dogs at the end of a rope.
Suddenly he heard the wail of police sirens. Four police cars pulled up, and his mom and Gus ran to the bandstand.
Mrs. Lacey and eleven other people got out of the cars and followed them.
The poodles began to yip and dance on their rope, tugging Tyler toward the bandstand.
A policeman came over to help him. He winked at Tyler as Mrs. Lacey and the eleven other people climbed up onto the bandstand. Officer Olson started to speak.
“As you know, there has been a spate of dognappings in this town,” she said. “We believe we have the dogs here, even though these poodles are black, and the stolen dogs were all different colors.
“Tyler,” she continued, “could you please untie the first dog?”
Tyler untied the poodle closest to his end of the rope. In two bounds, the little black poodle flew up the steps to Cassandra Caniche, as if she were the only person on the bandstand.
One by one, Tyler let the other poodles off. One by one, they raced straight to someone on the bandstand, until Mrs. Lacey and the black poodle tied next to Max were the only ones left alone.
Tyler untied the last loop.
The little dog flew into Mrs. Lacey’s arms, wrapping her front paws around her owner’s neck and covering her face with licky kisses.
“I think you can see,” Tyler’s mom said finally, over the noise of licking and yipping, patting and sobbing, “that even if humans might not have been able to work it out, the dogs knew who they belonged with!”
Another policeman came up and handed her a message. Tyler’s mom scanned it quickly.
“The dognapper has confessed. After last year’s fair, when Cassandra Caniche won prizes for the Best-Groomed Poodle, the Best-Spun Poodle Wool, and the overall Best Item for a poodle wool coat, the dognapper asked her to marry him. When she said no, he threatened that she’d never again have the glory of winning so many prizes. So, two weeks ago, he teased Cassandra’s dog with fresh, juicy steak until it followed him out into his van. He then stole all the other poodles in the same way. He dyed them black so no one would recognize them—and so he could win the Best-Matched Poodles prize tomorrow! Fortunately we arrested him first. When he heard what he thought was a police dog, he ran away, knocked down a clown, and stole his costume. But he’d left behind a scrap of his shirt when he stole the last poodle— and so the real police dog knew who he was.”
“Hooray for Gus!” shouted someone who’d seen the police dog tackle the clown.
Gus lifted his head proudly, and Tyler’s mom patted him. “Gus caught him,” she agreed, “but the true hero is the dog who tracked him down and rescued the poodles.”
Everyone was surprised, because everyone knew there was only one police dog in the town.
“Max!” called Tyler’s mom.
The little dachshund had tracked a vehicle and run for more than an hour, dug two tunnels and searched a drain, found his friend, and led a parade of lost poodles through the streets of the town. He was sound asleep.
But he woke up when Officer Olson called, and he followed Tyler up the steps on his strong stumpy legs.
The policeman who’d brought the message stepped forward and held up a small gold tag.
“In recognition of Max the Dax’s out- standing service today, I’m awarding him the title of honorary police dog.”
He threaded the tag onto Max’s collar.
The crowd cheered; Cassandra Caniche and all the other people who’d been reunited with their poodles hugged Tyler while their dogs licked Max. Mrs. Lacey kissed them both. Tyler’s mom and the other police officer shook Tyler’s hand and Max’s paw.
Gus leaned down and licked Max’s head. And Max licked him back.
Compilation copyright © 2012 by Ann M. Martin
Illustrations © 2012 by Olga and Aleksey Ivanov