A coyotes in the house, p.1
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       A Coyote's in the House, p.1

           Elmore Leonard
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A Coyote's in the House

  a Coyote's in the House (2004)

  Leonard, Elmore

  Unknown publisher (2011)

  * * *

  A Coyote's In The House.

  Elmore Leonard.


  Chapter One.

  There was Antwan, living the life of a young coyote up in the Hollywood Hills, loving it, but careful to keep out of the way of humans. Humans were crazy. Some would feed you, e would shoot at you for no reason. Yell at coyotes, Go on back where you came from. But this was where they came from. They had lived in these hills the past forty thousand years or so.

  It was their turf.

  All Antwan and his gang wanted to do was hang with the pack, goof around, groom each other for ticks and fleas, flirt with the sisters and mostly chase after whatever kinds of creatures were out of their holes. Mice were the most fun, 'cause you could play with 'em before you ate 'em.

  Mice ate crickets and crunchy bugs, and coyotes ate mice. It wasn't to be mean or cruel. It was what the law of nature told you to do if you were a coyote. The same as when they went after possums and raccoons, or rabbits hippity-hopping down the bunny trail. Even kitty cats and little doggies humans kept as pets, they were all on the coyote food list, okay to eat.

  Understand, if the mice or other creatures were hiding out in their holes or off looking for food, then Antwan and his gang would have to go looking for it too.

  Go to where humans lived, down back of their houses where they kept their trash cans. It was dangerous 'cause you had to look out for humans. Some even tried to run over you with their cars. But if they didn't build their houses right here, Antwan and his gang wouldn't be going through their garbage.

  Antwan was the leader of the gang, known as the Howling Diablos, because he was the smartest and the fastest of all the young coyotes. The Diablos were pretty sure that in time, say in a year or so, Antwan would be the one to tussle with Cletus, the pack leader, and run the old dude off. Then Antwan would be the head of the whole pack and have his pick of the bitches. He'd choose the one he'd like to hang with the rest of his life and have his pups.

  Right now Antwan was busy looking after his little sister, Ramona, seeing she didn't get in trouble. Ramona was dying to join the Diablos, but hadn't yet learned enough about life in the wild to run with the big boys.

  Antwan was teaching her.

  Saturday afternoons he'd take Ramona to a dog park over in another part of the hills, a good place to show his sister the different breeds of dogs there were in the world, the ones easy to snatch and eat and the ones you didn't want to mess with. Antwan and Ramona would crouch in the bushes, up on the side of the canyon, and look down at the humans and their pets, some coming up the mile-long trail from Hollywood, while others were walking down: all kinds of dogs passing both ways. It was like a show.

  Here comes a working dog, a Border collie, Antwan said, only he's out of work. Rides around Hollywood in his owner's car looking for sheep to herd.

  I know what collies look like, Ramona said. They have that long, pointy face.

  Other dogs do too, Antwan said. Your borzois, your Afghan hounds ... What's that white one coming?

  A greyhound?

  You're close, but it's a saluki.

  What's it do?

  Lays around the house thinking it's somebody.

  Ramona said, I know greyhounds chase rabbits.

  Yeah, toy ones, Antwan said. They chase 'em around a racetrack and humans bet money on which one's gonna win.

  Ramona wouldn't know what he was talking about. It took time to learn all the weird things dogs had to do. Antwan said now, Here come some more working dogs, like the collie. That black one's a Bouvier and the little shorty's a corgi. Put them out on a farm they can't wait to start herding sheep, or even geese. That make sense to you, having to work? It's hard to believe coyotes and dogs are in the same family, dogs having sold out, gone over to the human side. They're more like them than they are us.

  Antwan said now, Here comes a hunting dog, a pointer. He points to where the game bird's hiding like a pheasant, the one with the long tail? And the human shoots the bird as it flies up in the air.

  So the pointer's like somebody that tattles on you, Ramona said, a snitch.

  That's right, honey, Antwan said, you're learning your breeds. What's that one with the big floppy ears?

  A bloodhound.

  And what's he do?

  Catches your scent and sniffs after you.

  That dog's so dumb, Antwan said, he'll track you all day and all night for a treat and a pat on the head. All these dogs, they'll do tricks, sit up and roll over, to get a treat put in their mouth.

  I never had one, Ramona said.

  A treat? You haven't missed anything. Okay, what's that dog you see him down there taking a pee?

  A German shepherd.

  Wrong. It's a Siberian husky, tough as they come. He'll sleep outside all night in the snow and pull a sled all day. What's snow?

  That white stuff you see on top of Mt. Wilson. He waited for Ramona to ask him what a sled was.

  But Ramona was looking at a dog with big droopy ears and a long black coat to the ground. She said, What's that one?

  Some kind of spaniel, Antwan said. A human shoots a duck out of the sky, it falls in the lake and that retriever dog swims out and fetches it. Doesn't mind getting wet. Only around here it doesn't do nothing but sleep and get food handed to it.

  Ramona said, What's wrong with that?

  And Antwan said, Could you lay around all day? Never hunt your own food? Come up here to be shown off? What good would you be, to the pack or to yourself?

  I could have fun playing, Ramona said, looking at a boy with a Chihuahua jumping up at him, like that little one there.

  You want to be known as a toy? Antwan said. That's all that dog is. There's some more, the Lhasa Apso and that lowrider they call a dachshund looks like a sausage and smells like it, too. They're tasty enough, but give me a rabbit or a half dozen mice for breakfast any day.

  Now Ramona was watching a human throwing a ball to his dog standing above him on the trail, the dog catching the ball in his mouth, then dropping it to roll down the slope to the human. She said, Antwan, look how smart that dog is.

  You mean smart for being a dog, don't you? Antwan noticed it wore a red bandana tied around its neck. Tell me what kind of dog it is.

  That one's a German shepherd.

  What's it good for, if anything?

  Guarding places, homes.

  That's why they call it a police dog. But it can be mean and nasty, Antwan said, though I have my doubts about this one, trying to look stylish with that red hankie.

  I wouldn't mind having a yellow one, Ramona said. You have to admit it's a smart dog, rolling the ball back to its master.

  There, Antwan said. You just said the word makes all the difference, 'its master.' The dog's forgot who he is. Thinks he's only supposed to do what his master wants. Tell me you'd rather play catch with that smelly human than run after rabbits. He watched Ramona begin to nod her head, thinking about it, Antwan hoping the girl wasn't getting the idea dogs were as smart as coyotes, or had anywhere near as much fun in their miserable dog lives.

  Antwan's gaze moved down the trail and stopped and right away he began licking his lips. He said to Ramona, See the two kids with the show bitch poodle? Cream colored, tricked out with the puffs and pom-poms? That's what you call gourmet dining. f t e r the dog lesson that day Antwan said, Come on, and he and Ramona raced across open slopes, circled homes perched on hillsides, saw a little girl wave from a deck that hung out in the sky; they ducked through gullies, thick brush and stands of trees following trails that only coyotes knew about. They were in sight of home,
the high ravine where the pack lived in caves and crevices and had its dens. Antwan stopped.

  He raised his face and heard it again, closer, that caw caw caw of a crow, and said, It's Cicero, Cicero Crow.

  Ramona wasn't so sure. She said, Or is it a flock of 'em spotted us out here?

  Every once in a while she'd hear about crows catching a coyote out in a field by himself. They'd dive on him, peck him to death and clean his bones, leave nothing but his pelt.

  Believe me, it's Cicero, Antwan said, and saw him in the sky alone, circling, then flying off a couple of times and coming back again until Antwan said, Let's go, and started off in the direction the crow was taking them.

  Ramona, running close to Antwan, said, I don't know why you trust him.

  I don't, Antwan said, but we still buddies, help each other out. I know his caw and he knows my howl. I let him know about a roadkill so smelly and squished only a crow or a buzzard would eat it. He tells me where there's a special kind of garbage treat waiting.

  Just then Cicero circled and landed with a hop about ten yards in front of them. He greeted them in his screechy voice saying, My man Antwan and his sweet little sister. He ignored Ramona growling at him. How y'all doing? You feel like dining on some sushi? I'm sitting on the garage, I see the maid come out back with a pail of garbage, left over tuna and avocado rolls she throws in the trash can. Follow me, Cicero Crow said, to the movie star's house, raised his shiny black wings to beat the air, waddled away from them and took off.

  See? Antwan said. Likes doing me favors.

  He can't get the lid off the garbage can, Ramona said, the only reason he calls you.

  It works out, Antwan said. See, he thinks he's as smart as us and crows could be almost as smart. One time I heard Cletus and some old fellas talking about crows, saying if us and them were the only living creatures in the world, which one would get et up. Cletus goes, 'If crows are all we have to eat, we'll find a way to catch 'em.' Meaning we still smarter but have to look out for 'em. Especially you see a bunch of crows following you.

  He could still scare Ramona when he needed to. Antwan told her to go on home now. Me and Cicero do our business one on one.

  Cicero had mentioned the sushi being in a movie star's trash, but didn't say which movie star. It didn't matter as movie stars always had the best garbage, and the most of it. Like they bought more food than they could eat and had to throw a lot of it away.

  Antwan liked Chinese food, came in those white cartons. He liked sushi, fish and rice wrapped up together. He liked pizza with cheese and pepperoni, a nice piece of hamburger with ketchup on it. He even liked broccoli and brussel sprouts. Antwan ran down the hill and through dark woods and came out on an alley that ran behind a huge white house with a wire fence around the backyard. He had looked for food here a number of times before but never knew it belonged to a movie star. Two big trash cans, green ones, stood behind the garage, Cicero perched on one of them.

  Hit it! Cicero said, and flapped his wings to lift himself up onto the edge of the garage roof, out of the way.

  Antwan got ready. Dug his claws into the ground. Lunged in two powerful bounds across the blacktop alley. Leaped at the trash can to bounce it off the back of the garage and drop on its side Cicero caw-cawing now, flapping his wings, as Antwan clawed the lid from the big green can and stuck his nose inside.

  At this moment the most amazing adventure of his coyote life was about to begin.

  Chapter Two.

  Antwan came face-to-face with a mouse trapped inside the trash can, a mouse with wasabi on its little twitching whiskers.

  Face-to-face for only a second and the mouse was gone, out of there with Antwan after it, smelling mouse and sushi, a feast, paying no attention to Cicero cawing at him, You crazy? Where you going?

  He chased that mouse to the wire fence that was about five feet high. The mouse scurried right through the wire, and Antwan took a flying leap over the top, came down almost close enough to nip the mouse's tail, looked up and stopped in his tracks.

  A dog was in the yard by the swimming pool.

  A German shepherd, bigger than Antwan.

  There was something familiar about this dog lying in the grass working on a bone. His big white teeth gnawing it clean. The dog raised his head to watch the mouse run past to the house and disappear into a hole. But he didn't bark or chase after it.

  Now the dog sat up and looked this way and Antwan saw the red bandana around his neck: the dog from the park who thought he was stylish and liked to play catch. The dog kept staring at him, so Antwan bushed out his tail and stuck it straight back behind him, ready for business. The dog still didn't bark and get bent out of shape the way most dogs would.

  No, this dog was cool for a homeboy, an older male who had peed all over this big yard, marking it to let everybody know this was his turf and nobody else's.

  Antwan was thinking, Keep it, homes. Live here and get food handed to you. Believe you're somebody in your pitiful kept world, no better than a slave.

  Antwan and the dog kept staring at each other, Antwan wondering what could be on this homey's mind. Now he watched the dog get up and shake the leaves and grass off his butt and walk over to the house. Now, he'd stand there helpless and start barking for somebody to let him in.

  But he didn't. He walked up to the back door, stood there, and then looked around at Antwan. Like he was saying, Watch. This is how you get in. Next thing, he pushed his head against a dog door that was part of the big door, down low, stepped inside and the flap of the dog door closed behind him.

  Weird. Antwan saying to himself, You know what that homey's telling you? He's inviting you in the house.

  Yeah, but what if it was a trap and that German dog had a bunch of his brothers in there waiting?

  This came to Antwan's mind 'cause he knew you should never trust dogs. Then was gone from his mind 'cause he had no respect for them, either. All they did mostly was bark and fuss, get excited. Dogs gave Antwan a headache.

  He wondered should he howl for the Howling Diablos, tell 'em leave whatever you're doing and get over here. Not Antwan or any coyotes he knew of had ever been inside a house. The closest was when they looked in windows to watch TV.

  Uh-unh, he couldn't wait too anxious to see what it was like being inside and not afraid to go in alone. He said to himself, Then do it, man.

  With no idea of what he might find going on in there, Antwan pushed through the door flap and stepped into a house for the first time in his life.

  He smelled the dog right away but didn't care or even look to see where it was. Antwan had caught the scent of peanut butter cookies, sitting right on the kitchen table. He hopped up there and ate every last one of the cookies and didn't think of the dog again until he was right there, sitting on the floor, licking his lips as he looked up at Antwan licking his, Antwan thinking there was something wrong with this dog.

  He said, Homes, can't you smell?

  Of course I can smell.

  You know cookies are sitting here and you don't eat none?

  We're not allowed cookies, the big German dog said, sounding like a wimp. He turned his head to point to two dog dishes sitting on the floor, each with a name on it. Buddy on one, Miss Betty on the other.

  Antwan said, Which one's yours, homes?

  Buddy was giving him a cold look now, serious. He said, You don't know who I am, do you?

  I see you like to wear that hankie around your neck and play catch with your owner. Why should I know who you are?

  Buddy was standing now. All he said was, Follow me, and started out of the kitchen.

  Wait, Antwan said. Who's Miss Betty?

  She lives here too. Betty freaked seeing you in the yard. I had to settle her down.

  She happen to be a show bitch poodle, Antwan said, with a creamy-colored coat?

  He could tell from the surprised look on Buddy's face he had it right, Miss Betty the one at the dog park with the two kids.

  Where she at,
homes? I like to meet her.

  You promise not to mess with her?

  I haven't messed with you, have I?

  You know better, Buddy said. What do they call you? Antwan told him and Buddy said, Come on, Antwan, but you have to behave yourself.

  Antwan hopped down from the table to follow, walking on his toes the way coyotes do, and the next thing was slipping and sliding on the tile floor. Like a pond frozen over in the winter. They entered the family room and his claws dug into carpeting, soft and deep as grass. He looked around and saw different kinds of chairs, what humans sat on to watch TV, brought his gaze up to the walls and saw a German shepherd in a row of big movie posters, and in every one of them the dog was wearing a red bandana around its neck.

  That's you, Antwan said, amazed. I been coming to this house for the fine garbage, it turns out you're the movie star lives here?

  I made those movies and a few more, Buddy said, till I retired. Buddy to the Rescue, Buddy Goes to War, Buddy and the Kidnappers, Buddy on Safari it was supposed to be in Africa, but they shot all my movies on the backlot of the studio. I played a drug sniffer in Traffic but the scene was cut.

  I think I saw you in one of 'em, Antwan said, trying not to sound impressed. Was either on TV or at the drive-in we go to over by Encino. We sit up on the hill in the summer and watch the movies.

  Buddy said, What do you do in the winter?

  Same as all year, we hunt. There people that put out food, but not many.

  And you take it, don't you?

  It's just sitting there, Antwan said. He raised his nose and sniffed, catching a scent that seemed part dog and part human, with a soft, powdery smell of flowers thrown in, a scent you'd catch from humans that were female. He started toward the sofa.

  Buddy said, Betty, he knows you're there. Come on out.

  Antwan stopped in the middle of the room. He watched Miss Betty appear in a timid way, coming out from behind the sofa. Yes indeed, it was the same creamy-colored poodle from the dog park, all trimmed and tricked out with a blue ribbon and a puff of hair on top her head, pom-poms around her ankles and one on the tip of her tail. Antwan had to admit, this was the prettiest dog he'd ever seen. He started toward her and Miss Betty backed away, her pom-poms shaking, her big black eyes in that creamy cute face staring at him.

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