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Movie for dogs, p.1
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       Movie for Dogs, p.1

           Lois Duncan
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Movie for Dogs





  For Matthew Daniel Walpole

  with happy wishes



  Title Page






















  Also by Lois Duncan

  About the Author



  The envelope was at the top of the pile of letters under the mail slot when Andi Walker arrived home from school on Friday afternoon. When she saw the return address of Pet Lovers Press, her heart started pounding so hard that she was afraid it might pop through her chest.

  For six long months she had been waiting for this very letter, rushing home from school every day to see if it had come. And finally, here it was, lying on the floor in the entrance hall, as ordinary-looking as if it were an advertisement for laundry detergent and not an announcement of the most important event of her life.

  She had submitted her manuscript to the Young Author Dog Lovers Contest the past October. It was now more than halfway through April, and she had started to worry that her manuscript had been lost in the mail. Or worse, that some unscrupulous worker at the post office — not a regular employee, of course, but a substitute with a criminal background — had stolen her story and submitted it under his own name. She’d had to keep reassuring herself that such a thing would be impossible, because contestants were required to be under the age of sixteen and people that age very seldom worked for the post office.

  The age restriction had not been a problem for Andi, who had written the book when she was eleven and had turned twelve in December. Despite her young age, Andi was an experienced writer. Her poetry appeared in almost every issue of the school paper, and the past summer she and her brother and two of their friends had published a newspaper for dogs called The Bow-Wow News. Andi had been the editor.

  However, she’d never tried to write a novel before this one. When she’d seen a flier about the contest posted in the library and read that the winning story would be published by Pet Lovers Press, she’d known at once that this was the opportunity of a lifetime. The stories had to be about dogs, and Andi was a dog person. She felt sure she knew more about dogs than anyone else in the world and definitely loved them more than anybody else did. She had worked all summer writing her novel, and the day she’d mailed off the manuscript in a large envelope covered with stamps — she hadn’t been sure how much postage it needed, and didn’t want to risk falling short — she’d been certain her entry would win.

  How could it not, when so much love and work had gone into it?

  Andi bent down and picked up the envelope. Then she just stood there, enjoying the feel of it in her hands and imagining what it would be like when she opened it. She didn’t want that moment to come too quickly, because once it was over, it would become part of the past. It would be like the letdown that came on Christmas afternoon, when all the gifts had been unwrapped and the paper and bows had been stuffed into a trash bag or burned in the fireplace. No matter how happy you were with the presents, the magical sense of anticipation vanished.

  Suddenly, the front door flew open so hard it almost knocked her over, and her brother, Bruce, burst into the house. Bruce, who attended Elmwood Middle School, which let out later than

  Elmwood Elementary, always came rushing home with two things on his mind — getting something to eat and taking his dog for a run.

  “Sorry,” he said as the door slammed into his sister. “Why are you standing right in the doorway? You look like you’ve grown roots.”

  “My novel, Bobby Strikes Back, is going to be published,” Andi told him, savoring the sound of the words. “I’ve won the Young Author Dog Lovers Contest.”

  “How do you know?” Bruce asked, gesturing to the unopened envelope. “You haven’t even read the letter yet.”

  “I must have won,” Andi said. “Publishers return manuscripts in big brown envelopes. I’ve gotten a lot of poems and stories back from magazines, and they always come in brown envelopes. This is a regular envelope with one piece of paper in it. I can tell because it’s so light. I’m going to wait until the exact right moment to open it.”

  “And when will that be?” Bruce asked her. His sister never ceased to bewilder him. His best friend, Tim Kelly, had little sisters who reminded Bruce of a set of dominoes — exactly alike except for the number of freckles on their upturned noses. But Andi wasn’t like anyone else he’d ever known. Personally, he couldn’t imagine postponing opening a letter, especially if he knew it contained something wonderful.

  “I’m going to open it at the dinner table,” Andi told him. “Then Dad and Mom will reward me by taking us out for ice cream. I’m going to have a strawberry sundae.”

  “They’ll take us out for ice cream no matter when you open that envelope,” Bruce said reasonably. “They always do that when there’s something to celebrate. I’m going to have a triple-dip chocolate cone.”

  Leaving his sister anchored to the floor in the entrance hall, he went into the kitchen and grabbed a handful of cookies from one container and a dog biscuit from another. Then he let himself out into the backyard.

  “Red, come!” he called. “Snack time!”

  His Irish setter, Red Rover, came bounding to greet him, his bright plume of a tail swishing back and forth so wildly that Bruce half expected the dog to take off like a helicopter.

  Bruce crammed the cookies into his own mouth and held up the biscuit.

  “Sit!” he said. “Say ‘Please!’”

  Red immediately sat and gave a short, sharp bark. His tail now pounded the ground instead of the air.

  “Say ‘Pretty please!’” Bruce told him, and Red barked twice.

  Bruce tossed the biscuit, and Red leapt to catch it in midair. Feeding a biscuit to Red was like feeding a peanut to an elephant; it slid down his throat so fast that you knew he hadn’t tasted it.

  “If you want to go running, you’ll have to open the gate,” Bruce said. “But don’t even think about doing that until I say the magic word.”

  The past summer, when Red had pulled free of his leash and rushed into traffic, Bruce’s father had threatened to take the big dog away from him. Mr. Walker was worried that Bruce, who was small for his age, was not strong enough to control an excitable setter. He had finally agreed that Bruce could keep Red Rover if he got a book about dog training and taught the dog to obey. Bruce had taken the challenge seriously, and Red had proved to be a good student. Not only did he now obey such common commands as “come,” “heel,” “sit,” and “paws up,” he’d also learned an assortment of complicated tricks, one of which was to open the backyard gate. But he always waited for Bruce to issue the command.

  Now Bruce snapped the leash onto Red’s collar and shouted, “Open, sesame!” At the sound of those words, Red stood up on his hind legs and pressed his front paws against the top of the gate. Then he took the latch in his teeth and lifted it.

  The gate swung open, and boy and dog raced joyfully down the alley and onto a sidewalk lined with maple trees. The bare winter branches had just begun
to sprout new leaves, and the fringe of pale green was as delicate as lace against the clear blue sky. In the front yards of houses up and down the block, the first tulips and daffodils had broken through the earth, not yet an explosion of color as they would be soon, but a promise of what was to come in a matter of weeks.

  Bruce always took the same route on their afternoon runs; he wanted to avoid Jerry Gordon’s house, which was inconveniently located near the end of the block, next door to his father’s aunt Alice. There was no way for Bruce to get around it when he visited his great-aunt, but left to himself, he always headed in the opposite direction.

  With the possible exception of Jerry’s cousin, Connor, who lived in Chicago, Jerry was the worst person Bruce had ever known. Jerry had been Red Rover’s original owner but had mistreated the dog so badly that Mr. Gordon had agreed to sell Red to Bruce. Jerry had never forgiven Bruce for buying Red and had used every opportunity to make both Bruce’s and Red’s lives miserable. It was Jerry who had caused Red to run into traffic by trying to ram him with his skateboard, and the previous summer, Jerry and Connor, who had been spending the summer in Elmwood, had come up with a dognapping scheme that had caused many innocent people a huge amount of heartache.

  To make matters worse — at least, as far as Bruce was concerned — Jerry, who was his age, was four inches taller and twenty pounds heavier than he was. He was also extremely good-looking and had an angelic smile that charmed every adult he came in contact with. Bruce tried to stay as far away from him as possible.

  But why am I thinking about Jerry now? he asked himself. The traumatic events of the previous summer were far behind him. Over the winter he hadn’t seen Jerry much at all, except at school, where they were in the same English class. Now, as he ran with his dog in the bright April sunshine, there was no menacing whir of skateboard wheels behind them to disrupt the peace and serenity of the glorious afternoon. Red was in his element, stretching his lean, strong legs at a gallop, with his long ears streaming behind him like russet banners. From the very first moment Bruce had seen him, he had thought Red Rover was the most beautiful animal in the world.

  They ran for just over a mile before Bruce reined Red in and made him turn around so they could head for home. As they neared the house, Red picked up even more speed, and Bruce had to strain to keep up with him. As much as Red loved his outings, he also loved going home to gobble up his dinner.

  The backyard gate still stood open, and Bruce let go of Red’s leash to allow him to race inside. Then he entered the yard himself and latched the gate behind him. When he turned to face the house, he was surprised to see Andi sitting on the back steps. Her dachshund, Bebe, was draped across her knees like a dog-shaped blanket.

  The envelope from the publishing house lay open at Andi’s feet, and she was holding the letter as if it were burning her fingers.

  “I couldn’t wait until dinner to open it,” she said. “I’m glad I didn’t, because it wasn’t what I thought it was.”

  Bruce went over and sat down next to her on the steps. He had never seen his sister look so dejected.

  “You didn’t win.” It was a statement rather than a question. “I know you’re disappointed, but there’s always a next time. They’ll probably run the contest again next year.”

  “Next year’s contest will be about cats,” Andi said.

  “Oh.” Bruce could think of nothing to say to comfort her. Andi was not a cat lover. He could not imagine her writing a book about cats.

  “I came in second,” Andi said. “They’re sending my manuscript back in a separate envelope so they can include a certificate.”

  “You got second place!” Bruce exclaimed, no longer feeling sorry for her. “Then what are you moping about? Second place is terrific!”

  “But the winner —” Andi said. “The winner —”

  She choked on the words, unable to continue.

  “How old was the winner?” Bruce asked her.

  “Fourteen,” Andi said.

  “Two years older than you? So, what can you expect? The winner’s had two more years to practice writing stories.”

  “It isn’t the age that matters,” Andi said miserably. “The awful thing is the first-place winner is Jerry Gordon!”


  “It can’t be!” Bruce exploded. “Jerry isn’t a writer!”

  “We can’t know that for sure,” Andi said. “He’s cruel and sneaky, but that doesn’t mean he can’t write. Maybe he wrote a story about cutting dogs’ heads off.”

  “I guess that’s possible,” Bruce said, for she had made a good point. Being gifted in writing — or in anything else, for that matter — didn’t necessarily make you a good person. On the other hand, he had never seen the slightest indication that Jerry was a talented writer. Whenever their English teacher assigned them an essay to write, Jerry groaned more loudly than anybody else in the class.

  At dinner that night, Andi put on a good show. When their parents reacted with delight to the news that their daughter had placed second in a national contest, Andi forced her mouth into a smile so wide that it made her cheeks bulge like a chipmunk’s.

  “What an honor!” Mr. Walker exclaimed, beaming with pride. “Our little girl is going to be a local celebrity!”

  “I don’t think so,” Andi said. “The first-place winner was Jerry Gordon, so he’ll be the one who’ll be getting all the attention.”

  “Jerry?” Their father could not conceal his amazement. “Well, that’s a startling revelation! Who would have guessed that boy was disciplined enough to write a book? Maybe he needed a challenging activity to pass the time while he was confined to his house. His father told me he grounded Jerry for two weeks after all the trouble he and Connor got into last summer.”

  “Let’s consider this a good sign,” Mrs. Walker said hopefully. “Young people do go through phases. Now that he’s out from under his cousin’s bad influence, Jerry may become an entirely different person.”

  “I’m going to get a certificate,” Andi announced, making her voice trill as if she were excited. “I’m going to frame it and hang it on the wall in my bedroom.”

  “Not in your bedroom — in the den, where everyone can see it!” Mr. Walker told her. “After dinner, let’s go out for ice cream to celebrate!”

  “Andi, why don’t you call Aunt Alice and tell her the wonderful news?” Mrs. Walker suggested. “I bet she’d like to come with us. She loves celebrations.”

  “Tonight is Aunt Alice’s bingo night,” Andi said. “Besides, I’m too full for ice cream. I’d rather stay home and watch TV.”

  “I never thought I’d hear you say that!” her father exclaimed. “Since when is Andrea Walker too full to eat ice cream?”

  “She’s overexcited,” Mrs. Walker said with a knowing smile. “I bet she’ll change her mind when we get to the Dairy Queen.”

  However, Andi’s appetite showed no signs of improving. She shoved her food around on her dinner plate to give the impression that she was eating, but almost none of it made its way to her mouth. When, at her parents’ insistence, she joined the family for a trip to their favorite ice cream parlor, she asked for her strawberry sundae to be boxed to go so she could take it home with her.

  “It will melt!” her mother objected. “Why can’t you eat it here?”

  “I like soupy ice cream,” Andi said. “I’ll have it as a bedtime snack. I’m sure I’ll be hungry by then.”

  But she didn’t wait around long enough to get hungry. Instead, she went up to bed as soon as they got home.

  “I don’t know why,” she said, “but I’m really sleepy.”

  Now it was Mrs. Walker’s turn to regard her daughter with amazement.

  “I hope you’re not coming down with something,” she said worriedly. “This isn’t like you, honey. Aren’t you feeling well?”

  “I’m fine,” Andi said. “I’m just tired from all the excitement. It isn’t every day that a writer wins a certificate.”

/>   She smiled the big awful smile that was so obviously fake that Bruce couldn’t imagine how their parents could be taken in by it. His sister might be a good writer, but she was not a good actor.

  On his way down the hall to his own room a couple of hours later, Bruce heard a disturbing noise from behind Andi’s door. Andi kept her bedroom door closed because she slept with her dog. The children weren’t allowed to have their dogs in their bedrooms, but Andi hid Bebe in her closet until after her mother came in to kiss her good night, and then let her out and took her to bed with her.

  Mrs. Walker thought Bebe slept in the laundry room.

  So now, when Bruce rapped on the door, he was quick to identify himself.

  “It’s only me,” he called softly. “Can I come in?”

  “I’m asleep,” Andi called back.

  “If you were asleep, you wouldn’t have heard me,” Bruce said. He went in and quickly shoved the door closed behind him. “What was that noise I just heard? It sounded like somebody choking. Was Mom right about you being sick?”

  “Bebe threw up,” Andi said. “Strawberries don’t seem to agree with her.”

  “You fed Bebe your strawberry sundae!” Bruce exclaimed in horror. He switched on the overhead light, but when he saw what Bebe had done, he quickly switched it off again. “What were you thinking? You know a dog can’t digest a whole strawberry sundae.”

  “I couldn’t stand to waste something so good,” Andi said. “I tried to eat it myself, but I couldn’t make it go down. I thought Bebe would enjoy it, and she did — at least, for a couple of minutes.”

  At any other time, Bruce would have told her how dumb that was. Andi knew as well as he did that dogs should not be fed certain kinds of people food. But he couldn’t bring himself to say anything that would make her feel worse than she already did, because while the light had been on, he had seen her face. Her eyes were red, and her cheeks were puffy and tear-streaked.

  “You’ve been crying,” he said, a bit shaken. Andi seldom cried.

  “I have not been crying,” Andi shot back defensively. She paused and then admitted reluctantly, “Well, maybe a little bit. But please don’t say anything to Mom. I don’t want her coming in here and finding Bebe.”

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