THE POLICE CAME AROUND JUST RANDOMLY enough to stay unpredictable. After about two weeks, Benjamin could stand still while Officer Mendoza and his beast walked by. He still closed his eyes and breathed deeply.
Benjamin nudged Alex as they stood in line. A tall boy, who looked like he should be in high school, was sauntering to the van while Officer Mendoza pulled his dog away from the boy’s Nike sport bag.
“That’s Mando,” said Alex. “He’s bad news. Just got back yesterday. They say he was doing time for knocking over the Key Market.”
“Did he know about the drug dog?”
“Guess not or didn’t believe it was true.”
Benjamin had seen that saunter before, in other places besides New York. To him, Mando seemed a little tragic under the angry, confident air.
“Seems a little sad, to get busted the first day back,” he said.
“Don’t worry about Mando,” said Alex. “He tough, he’s got lots of friends, and, like I said, he’s bad news.”
The doors opened, and they returned to the scholastic routine.
Mando was back the next day. Word was that the bag stank enough to alert the dog, but it was empty. Out in the yard, Mando held court, bragging to his gang members about the making the pigs look stupid.
“What’s so special about him, Alex? Getting caught so soon doesn’t make him look too smart.”
“He’s the boss of the Diablos.”
“A crew. And he’s got a whole bunch of his buddies here. They come to school when he does. Sometimes there’s a fight or a drug-bust, and the crew tries to tear the place up.”
“Sheez, Alex. What do we do?”
“Stay cool, man. Step out to the edge of the area and wait. Ever treat a knife slash in First Aid? You get to do it for real after a fight. I even bandaged a gunshot wound last year.”
“Here at school?”
“Well, not really. Usually, the trouble starts out in the street. But you can’t get to the bus or walk home during a fight. And you can’t just run away. There’s almost a thousand kids here, and the only ones who keep their cool until the ambulances arrive are the Guardian Angels and the Scouts.”
“My folks won’t believe this.”
“Yes, they will. And they’ll put you in a private school as soon as you tell them. Do you like it here?”
“Well, yeah. School here is a lot more interesting than I thought it would be. I never knew about the fights.”
Alex grabbed his arm tightly. “Well, we like you, too, Ben, ‘specially Jim and Jerry and me. Why not let your parents find out on their own? Or at least don’t scare them before something actually happens?”
“Easy, Alex.” Benjamin shook out his arm. “Okay, man. I won’t tell them until I see something myself.”
“And it’s Benjamin.”
“I know. Sorry.”
ONE DAY, BENJAMIN SAW OFFICER MENDOZA standing by the gate to the school yard during recess. The policeman beckoned him over.
“Mr. Whalen tells me you’re one of his new Scouts.”
“Betsy makes you nervous, doesn’t she?”
“Betsy who, sir?”
“Betsy is my dog.”
“Oh. Yes, she does. I don’t like big dogs.”
“I can tell. They scared the hell out of me when I was your age. I got bit when I was eight and had to get rabies shots.”
“So how did you become a K-nine officer?”
“It’s not a long story, but it makes better telling somewhere else. Would you like to come see where Betsy lives? You could join us for a walk.”
“I’m not sure, sir.”
“Mr. Whalen told me you came to town after Betsy and I came to the troop meeting. Why not let me show you what I showed them?”
“Well, okay, I guess. I have to ask my parents.”
“Of course. I will call them myself. I just want to know it’s okay with you before I talk to them.”
The bell for sixth period rang. Benjamin ran to catch up with Alex and Jim.
“Officer Mendoza called, Benjamin,” his mother said as he came home that evening. “If you want to go, he’ll come by here Saturday morning.”
“Well, okay.” He took the telephone number from her and went to the telephone. Anything that would make a difference in his fear of dogs was fine with his parents, so he did not feel like discussing it.
Walking Betsy turned out to be quite a hike. They headed southwest beyond Flushing Meadows‑Corona Park as far as the warehouse district.
“Not much of a neighborhood,” said Officer Mendoza, as they stopped for a hot dog before heading back. Back in Flushing Meadows, he let Betsy off the leash. He pulled a bright yellow-green tennis ball from his pocket and played “Fetch” with her. She sprinted like a cheetah as far as he could throw the ball, almost catching it on the bounce. “At least we could get more room out here. Dogs and people need exercise, and we can’t run like this in the apartment.”
“You live in an apartment?”
“That’s right. Just around the corner from your house, on Parsons Boulevard.”
“Where does Betsy live?”
“With us.” He gave Benjamin the ball. “Here. Throw it.”
Benjamin threw the ball long and hard. Betsy grabbed the ball and came running at him. He turned, but the policeman caught him firmly by the arm.
“Betsy! Heel!” he called, signalling to his feet. “Don’t run, Benjamin. Let her bring the ball back.” He relaxed his arm. Benjamin turned back and forced himself to stand still. The dog trotted to them, dropped the ball at their feet and sat.
“See that?” he said. “She will always stop what she is doing to follow her handler’s orders.”
Officer Mendoza pocketed the ball. He put the leash on Betsy. They walked home.
“HEY, HOLSTER! C’M’HERE, BOY.” Benjamin stopped and looked behind him. Mando was leaning against the corner of the hallway, surrounded by a half-dozen boys in black jackets.
“Yeah, Holster.” Mando beckoned him. Benjamin stood fast, about twenty feet away.
“What do you want?”
“I hear you’re pretty smart, Holster.”
“I been pretty lucky with my grades so far.”
“Well, how come you not smart enough to come when I call?”
“I can hear you fine where I am.” Someone sucked in his breath. Benjamin became aware that a crowd had gathered behind him. Alex and Jerry appeared at his side.
“A mouth like that could get a guy killed, y’know.”
Benjamin felt a bead of sweat run down his back. His hair tingled and he felt his muscles tighten and relax as his heartbeat rose. What do I say now? I don’t know the rules of this game. “Do what comes naturally,” his father had said.
“Look, Mando, I’m no trouble for you. Just leave me alone and I’ll stay out of your way.” Behind Mando’s band, Jim was leading the principal and four teachers. Mando looked around and back to Benjamin.
“Okay for now, Holster, but you’re on my list, man.” He flicked his head and moved quickly away from the approaching teachers.
“Break it up, kids,” said the principal to the dispersing crowd. Jim joined the three Scouts and they walked together.
“It could be tough outside,” said Alex.
Mando had had enough or did not know what to do about the new kid from Virginia. None of his people were visible.
“That was real brave, Benjamin,” said Jerry.
“Dumb, you mean,” said Benjamin. “I was scared stiff.”
“Well, you faced him down. No one’s ever done that to Mando.”
“I did not know what else to say to him. And now he’s probably going to make trouble for me.”
“Just keep your eyes peeled and don’t worry,” said Alex. “We’ll stick by you. You coming to soccer practice?”
“Sure. Meet you there.”
Benjamin caught sight of Mando’s familiar figure at the other end of Ash Avenue when he turned onto the street. Mando was leaning against a light pole across from the Holst home. Benjamin ducked quickly back the other way and watched the Diablo leader from behind a parked car. After a while, Mando gave up watching Benjamin’s home and moved out of sight toward Parsons Boulevard. Benjamin eased back to the sidewalk and walked quickly home.
FOR ABOUT TWO WEEKS, the Scouts stuck close to Benjamin. They were especially wary between classes and on the way home. But Mando seemed to have vanished.
“Did he get busted again?” asked Jim at lunch one day.
“Not likely,” said Alex. “That would have been all over the school. Besides, I seen a lot of Diablos around.”
“Strange, isn’t it?” said Benjamin. “At least if we knew where he was, we could avoid him.”
“Yeah, weird,” Alex said, “and we haven’t had a drug inspection in all this time, either.”
Officer Mendoza came around occasionally on patrol, but he walked the other side of Sanford or Barclay with Betsy.
“Wouldn’t want to ruin our social standing by saying hello,” said Alex.
Nevertheless, he did call Benjamin at home about every other week. Benjamin’s parents always agreed to let Benjamin go walking with Betsy or visiting at the Mendoza house.
After a couple of months of this, Benjamin decided it wasn’t all bad. Mrs. Mendoza always had great snacks on hand, and Manuela, their sixth-grade daughter, kept to herself when Benjamin was there. Another girl would be hanging around bugging him about being afraid of dogs.
Betsy lived in a covered end of the balcony off the kitchen.
“She is really an outdoor dog,” said Officer Mendoza. “She gets fidgety after being inside too long.”
“What about days like today?” asked Benjamin. The windows of the apartment were steamed up. Outside, the cold rain floated piles of dirty snow down the street. “Do you take her for walks in this?”
“Sure, aren’t you coming?” The policeman tossed Betsy’s leash to him.
Benjamin slid back the door to the balcony. Betsy had been leaning on it with her forepaws. She reared back as the door moved and fell in on Benjamin. She jumped back, startled and barked, wagging her tail at the sight of the leash.
Benjamin screamed a visceral cry of fear. Betsy barked again, confused. Benjamin dropped the leash and ran blindly away from the wall. He tripped on the sofa and crashed into Officer Mendoza. The policeman grabbed him in both arms and held him firmly. Betsy started to come closer, evidently concerned about Benjamin.
“Betsy, sit!” he ordered. The dog sat by the open door, a puzzled look on her face.
Benjamin sobbed and struggled weakly, but Mendoza held on. “Calm down, Benjamin. She is just sitting there.” Benjamin could not talk. “Just sit still here until you get a grip on yourself.”
Manuela stuck her head around the door. Her father looked up from where he sat rocking the boy.
“¿Puedo ajudar?” she asked. Can I help?
“Traige un vaso de leche.” When she brought the milk out, he lifted Benjamin into a sitting position. By this time, Benjamin was getting tired from the shaking. “Here, drink some milk,” the policeman said.
Mendoza guided Benjamin’s shaking hands to his mouth. The act of drinking something broke the trance. Benjamin stopped shaking and began to breathe more steadily. Manuela took the empty glass and disappeared after her father nodded his thanks.
The man, the boy, and the dog sat in silence. Somewhere in the clouds outside, a large jet roared overhead, climbing from John F. Kennedy airport. The cold wind blew in the open door, occasionally bringing spatters of rain. Finally, Betsy whimpered gently.
“You better now?” Officer Mendoza asked.
Benjamin nodded. He looked at Betsy dipping her head, anxious to be released from her position. “I really lost it, didn’t I?” he said.
“I think you scared her more than you realize,” said Betsy’s handler. “She is really worried about you.”
“What do I do now?”
“Well, you could try standing up.” Benjamin stood up a little unsteadily. Officer Mendoza got up, too. “Now, do you think you can put her leash on?”
“I think so, but now I’m kind of scared, more of what happened than of Betsy.”
“Well, here, take the leash and move slowly. She’ll stay put until you pull on the leash or I call her.” Benjamin walked slowly toward Betsy while Officer Mendoza moved beyond the dog and closed the balcony door behind his back. Benjamin put the leash on the dog and stood there with no tension on it.
“Okay,” said Officer Mendoza, “shall we go for that walk?”
They walked down the stairs, and Benjamin was already feeling more confident by the time they reached the street.
“I did not think I would be afraid of Betsy like that,” he said as they turned past the 109th Precinct and the Korean grocery stores on Union Street.
“You can learn to control your fear, Benjamin, but it will never leave you completely. I should know. I still feel it when a new, surprising situation suddenly comes up.”
“Like Betsy falling on you?”
“That would be something like it. Just last week a Labrador retriever came running across the street, obviously heading for Betsy. I was looking at some kids I thought might be shoplifting, and the Lab surprised me. Betsy’s bark made me look back and I froze for a split second. I remembered what it felt like to be so scared I could not move, but then the training took over. I don’t think anyone around knew that I was afraid.”
“Now I feel kind of stupid.”
“Okay but chalk this one up to experience. Betsy will never harm you, so be glad you can learn with her and not really be in danger.”
They crossed Sanford and headed south.
“So what should I have done?” Benjamin asked.
“Next thing you need to learn is to hold your ground,” the handler said. “You need to learn not to run, but to look at the approaching dog without moving. That will give you the seconds you need to gain control of your fear.”
“But what if I have to run?”
“Then run as a result of a deliberate choice, not from gut fear. You will run in the right direction, and you will know where you are running and when you can stop running. But always face the danger first. More often than not, you will see that you don’t have to run at all.”
“Sounds pretty tough to me.”
“It is. But we’ll start small. Would you like to learn to stand still? We can practice with Betsy in the park.”
“I don’t know. Right now?”
“No. Not in this weather. But maybe next time it’s nice out.”
“Well, all right,” said Benjamin.
“Here’s your house. Let’s make it a short walk today.”
“Thanks for the help,” said Benjamin as he went up the steps. Officer Mendoza waved. Betsy gave a gentle, short bark.
“You’re home early,” said his mother, as he slammed the front door and began to shed his dripping rain clothes.
“Yeah, this weather stinks. We just walked around the block and they left me home. Where’s Dad?”
“He walked down the street for some milk and bread. How are you and Betsy getting along?”
“Fine,” he said, and closed the door to his room.
THE MONDAY AFTER THANKSGIVING, Alex and Jim cornered Benjamin as soon as he got in the door.
“Trouble, man,” said Alex. “Mando’s back in town, and he is pissed.”
“Seems he went up to Connecticut with some Diablos and got into a scuffle with the police,” said Jim. “Westerbrook says he got away and had to walk and hitch-hike back here. Got in Saturday and has been swearing to get even with ‘Holster and his pig friend’.”
“What have I got to do with his trouble in Connecticut?” asked Benjamin.
“Nothing, but that’s no problem for Mando,” said Jim. “He doesn’t have to make sense. Anytime he loses a fight he comes looking for the last guy he had words with at school.”
“Is he here?”
“Haven’t seen him yet,” said Alex. “I don’t even know if he has come back to school yet.”
Mando did not show up. Except for its being hard to concentrate, it turned out to be an ordinary Monday for Benjamin and his friends. Alex, Jim and Jerry walked him home.
Tuesday, Benjamin recognized Mando’s saunter coming down Sanford Avenue as Benjamin rounded the corner across from the school. He thought Mando looked thinner than he remembered. Benjamin moved quickly into the crowd.
At lunch, Benjamin sat at his usual table with Alex. Jim and Jerry ate at a different period that day. Mando appeared just as the boys opened their lunch boxes. He sat across from Benjamin. A pair of Diablos took the end seats, flanking Alex and Benjamin.
“So, Holster, what’s for lunch?” said Mando, reaching for Benjamin’s lunch box. Benjamin pulled it away.
“I don’t know, Mando. Let me see first.” Benjamin pulled out a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich. “I got two of these. Want one?”
Mando knocked it out of his hand to Ling Huang at the end of the table. Ling was two years older than Benjamin and about forty pounds heavier. The sandwich vanished in three bites.
“If you’re hungry, Mando, I’ll share,” said Benjamin. “Like I said, I got no beef with you. I’m not out to piss you off, but I don’t have to put up with you either, if you just want to pick on me.”
Mando reached across and grabbed Benjamin’s arm. He gave it a sharp rap, banging Benjamin’s elbow on the table, then twisting the arm. The pain shot up to Benjamin’s shoulder. Alex started to get up, but Ling shoved him down on his seat.
“You think you’re pretty tough, don’t you, Holster,” said Mando.
“No, Mando, I don’t. And if you keep breaking my arm, I’ll scream.” Benjamin wanted to cry from the pain, but all he could do was stare straight at Mando.
Mando released his arm. “You’re different, Holster, what’s with you, man?”
“I don’t know, Mando. Maybe it’s ’cause I just got here from Virginia. I mean, I don’t know all the rules here, so I don’t know enough to stay out of your way.”
“You could get hurt finding out.”
“Sure, but you could also screw up, too, —”
“Yeah, your pig friend and his big dog.”
“Not that, I —”
“Your pig and his mutt are going to get theirs, too.”
Benjamin began to feel funny, like he was hearing someone else talking and watching the scene from next to himself. He saw himself shove his lunch at Mando and lean back straight.
“Hey, lighten up, man,” said Benjamin. “Listen for once, will you?” Mando’s face went blank as he caught the sandwich. “I just mean I don’t do things the way you do. You might not get the reaction you expect. Officer Mendoza has nothing to do with it.”
Mando cast a quick glance at Ling Huang and the Diablo at the other end of the table. He opened the sandwich bag and gave Benjamin a big grin. “Okay, Holster, what do you suggest?”
“Why not just leave me alone, or tell me what you want without a scene?”
“If it’s fun you want, beat me at basketball out in the yard. Or Super Mario Brothers at Ryan’s Arcade.”
Mr. Scorione, the gym teacher, began crossing the cafeteria, eyeing Mando as he chatted with students along the way.
“That’s a thought,” said Mando. “Maybe we’ll do that. Meanwhile, you still got a problem.”
“You piss me off.”
Mando took the sandwich and headed for the door, snapping his fingers for the two Diablos to follow.
10. RYAN’S ARCADE
JERRY AND BENJAMIN WALKED into the cafeteria the next day. A wimpy kid with an enormous, overloaded backpack brushed past Jerry, hitting his arm. Jerry winced.
“What’s wrong with your arm?” asked Benjamin.
“Just a bruise. Tell you about it when the others get here.”
They found a free table closer to the faculty monitor’s table than they had the day before. Alex and Jim showed up as they settled in with their lunches.
“Got a message from Mando,” said Jerry. Alex pulled his sandwich back from his mouth.
“Who delivered? Did it hurt?”
“Ling Huang,” said Jerry. “He just socked me hard in the arm.” He pulled up his sleeve, showing a dark bruise about the size of a baseball. “It knotted up, but now it’s just the bruise.”
“What was that for?” asked Benjamin.
“It’s how a crew boss sends a challenge,” said Alex. “One of his guys tells one of the other crew to tell his boss. There’s usually a fight between the messengers, too.”
“But you’re not in a gang – I mean a crew.”
“No, but the four of us are as close as it gets,” said Jerry. “I guess Mando sees you as the other boss.” Benjamin dropped his jaw and stared at his friends.
“Weird,” said Jim, “now we’re the Rat Crew. Think the Scout store has a special Patrol patch for that?” Alex faked a punch at him, and they laughed.
“So what’s the message?” asked Alex.
Jerry took a deep breath. “Mando wants to meet Benjamin at Ryan’s Arcade this afternoon – alone.”
“No way,” said Jim. “We go, too.”
“What about soccer practice?” said Alex.
“We can’t all miss it,” said Jerry, “but someone’s got to go with Benjamin.”
“Why?” asked Benjamin. “What’s the big deal?”
Alex rolled his eyes and sighed. “Man, you don’t get it! You gotta be alone, but he won’t be.”
“So what good will we be against a bunch of Diablos? I might as well go alone. It’s a public place. But I’d rather play soccer than let Mando trash me at the Arcade.”
“At least you get to pick the game,” said Jerry. “What are you good at?”
“I’ve played some Donkey Kong and a couple of car races.”
Alex shook his head. “Mando will hate that. He likes Final Fight or Killer Cops.”
Benjamin thought while he chewed a bite of ham and cheese sandwich. “So how do I tell Mando I want a different time?”
“I dunno,” said Alex. “No one ever told Mando something like that.”
“So, let’s find a Diablo,” said Benjamin.
Alex gaped for a second, and Jerry sucked in his breath.
“Hey, guys, easy,” said Benjamin. “I mean right here. Just to talk to.”
They looked around and spotted a familiar white tee-shirt two tables over.
“Julio Jimenez,” said Alex. “Not much of a fighter, but they like him.”
Benjamin rolled up the waxed paper from his sandwich (his father hated those little plastic sandwich bags) and threw it at the Diablo. Julio whirled around, and Benjamin beckoned him with his finger. Surprised, Julio looked around, then got up and came over.
“You try to start something, punk?”
“No, Julio, I just don’t want to shout in front of everyone. It’s private, man.” Benjamin half stood and motioned Julio to lean closer. “Tell Mando tomorrow after school. I’m busy already today.”
“You nuts, Holster. He not gonna like it.”
“How do we know? Just tell him. I’ll be there, but not today.”
Julio went back to his table shaking his head.
Jerry leaned over to Benjamin. “That was awesome, man.”
“It was all I could think of,” said Benjamin. “It scared the hell out of me.”
It must have worked, because none of the Scouts ran into any Diablos the rest of the day. That night, Benjamin tried to play some Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or Gaiden on the NES, but his parents rode his case about homework until he had to go to bed.
He dreamed fitfully that night about video games in which all the monsters and bad guys wore Diablo tee-shirts and destroyed him every time they appeared.
ONE DAY A TALL, BLACK MAN with grey temples and incredibly broad shoulders knocked on the Mendozas’ door while Benjamin was putting a leash on Betsy for their walk.
“You know Officer Washington, don’t you?” said Officer Mendoza.
“Yes, sir,” said Benjamin.
“Betsy has taken quite a liking to you, I see,” said Officer Washington. “You don’t look very afraid of her now.”
“I guess Betsy is kind of special,” said Benjamin. “I still get nervous when she gets real frisky, but she seems to know it and backs off. I don’t know about other dogs.”
They left the apartment and walked to the street four floors below. The air nipped at their ears and noses, but the clear sky and warm sun made it a perfect day for walking. Benjamin and Betsy walked ahead as the two policemen fell farther and farther behind. Soon they were trailing the dog and boy by more than a half block.
Benjamin checked behind him at first, but by the time they reached Central Avenue, boy and dog were both thinking only of the park. They ran past the gate and stopped. Benjamin unsnapped the leash and pulled a yellow tennis ball from his jacket pocket.
Betsy and he played serious fetch now, not the easy toss Officer Mendoza had used the first time they had come to this park. Benjamin struggled to challenge the highly trained working dog with difficult throws into bushes and over longer distances. For Betsy it was an exhilarating workout for a very fit animal whose work included mostly slow walking on patrol. Officers Mendoza and Washington watched from the edge of the field. For them the chance to talk about family and the Yankees without watching over each other’s shoulder for trouble was a rare break.
Just the sort of break when trouble strikes.
It was a big Doberman. Betsy’s running must have been too exciting. The dog broke free from the skinny woman with the leash and tore in a straight line to intercept Betsy and Benjamin. For several seconds Officer Mendoza, Officer Washington and the Doberman’s owner watched in horror as Benjamin turned and froze in terror at the sight of the monster coming at him.
Benjamin started to open his mouth, but the fear choked him. Suddenly from the left a brown and black blur raced at the Doberman, catching the big dog just behind the ear. The impact bowled both dogs over, with Betsy rolling to a position between Benjamin and the Doberman. For a moment the two attack dogs faced off, as if waiting instructions or waiting for a threatening move.
“Betsy! Out!” shouted Officer Mendoza.
“Rajah! Out!” called the skinny woman, with a voice like the bark of a small dog.
The two dogs turned and trotted back to their owners.
Benjamin shivered as Officer Mendoza came up and knelt beside him.
“You gonna be okay, man?” the policeman asked.
“I-I- think so.”
“You didn’t run. That’s different, isn’t it?”
Benjamin nodded. “I think I couldn’t.”
“I saw you, and I remembered myself at this point, Benjamin. You could have run, but deep down inside you were no longer sure you needed to.”
Officer Washington came back from talking to the Doberman’s owner. “Her dog does not seem hurt, but she’s a wreck. They just finished obedience school last week, at McKinley’s out in Nassau County.”
“I know the place,” said Officer Mendoza. “It’s a good school. If nothing else, she learned how to call off her dog without having to try to remember it.”
“How’s Betsy, Benjamin?” asked Officer Washington.
Benjamin looked up surprised. He was stroking Betsy’s neck and shoulders and only half listening. He paused to check around the dog and said, “I think she’s fine.”
“Good,” said Officer Mendoza. “Let’s go home.”
They walked together on the way back. They stopped at their favorite hot dog stand near Main and Sanford.
“Do you know what today means for Betsy and you, Benjamin?” asked Officer Mendoza as he passed around the hot dogs.
“You’re family,” answered the policeman. “Betsy dropped the tennis ball and intercepted that Doberman before any of us humans even knew the Doberman was loose. She would only do that to protect her handler or his family.”
“You’re in trouble now,” said Officer Washington, grinning. “Don’t you know there are already too many Mendozas in the world?”
“Up yours, partner!” Officer Mendoza faked a punch at his friend.
“Dom-da-Dom-Dom,” sang the black policeman. The two men started laughing hysterically. Betsy and Benjamin stood there watching them until they calmed down.
“Sorry, Benjamin,” said Officer Mendoza, “inside joke.” He wiped the tears with his used napkin. It painted a streak of mustard down his face, which set all three of them laughing.
“His name is Domingo,” explained Officer Washington as they started walking again. “The first day at the Police Academy, we wound up at the same table. He introduced himself and said ‘Call me Dom.’ Well, I was feeling silly I guess, so I Dom-Dom’d the tune from Dragnet. The rest of the table thought it was funny enough, but the jingle followed Dom into every class for the whole year. Sometimes it wasn’t funny, but by now it’s a special jingle for our whole Academy class.”
Benjamin nodded and smiled. “What was that command you used to call Betsy off? I think that lady used the same command.”
“She did,” said Officer Mendoza. “It’s Out!, O-U-T. A trained working dog, like a police dog or an attack dog, will break off any fight or attack if it hears the handler say ‘Out!’ Short, sharp, and never used with any other command.”
“Could I use it?”
“It’s only supposed to work for the handler.”
“But what if you were hurt or sick or something?”
“Gee, I’m not sure,” said Officer Mendoza. “Betsy has known Officer Washington here for years, but she does not respond to him.”
“But she does obey Marta and the kids around your house,” said Officer Washington.
“None of them ever had reason to call off an attack.” Officer Mendoza walked silently for a few steps. “I hope they never have to find out.”
The two policemen walked past Benjamin’s house on the way back.
“Enough excitement for one day,” said Officer Mendoza. “You go home first. Want me to come in and tell your parents about it?”
“That’s okay,” said Benjamin. “I can handle it.” He started up the steps to the porch, then stopped. “Wait,” he called. He ran back to Betsy and gave her a big hug around the neck.
“I forgot to say thanks.”
© 1993, 2022, JT Hine
Next week, Part Three, the conclusion. Come back!