Yitzi

By Zvi Zaks

 

 Chuck Frankel sensed two eyes scrutinizing him, but he lowered himself into the reclining chair anyway. The result: twenty pounds of brown, mixed-breed canine launched itself into the air and landed on his stomach. Chuck was a muscular forty-year old, but the impact made him gasp. A wet tongue licked his nose, and a hoarse voice growled, "Yizzi love Daddy." Then the tongue resumed its ministrations.

Chuck groaned. "Yitzi, you hurt Daddy."

The animal's ears perked up. "Yu hurt Daddy? No, no, Yu no hurt Daddy!"

Chuck called out, "Not James Yu," but it was too late. The dog bolted from the chair, dashed to the front door and shouted, "Yizzi kill Yu. Yu no hurt Daddy. Yu run away. Yizzi bite Yu and eat Yu up." Yitzi punctuated his threats with loud exclamation barks, trotted back to Chuck's chair, and tongue hanging out in a huge doggy grin, jumped back into his lap.

Chuck stared at the animal.

Yitzi's tail wagged furiously. "Daddy safe. Yizzi scare Yu and Yu run away. Yizzi big, brave dog. Guard Daddy." He licked Chuck's nose again.

Chuck scratched the bulge on the side of the dog's skull. "Yitzi, 'you' is a pronoun. It doesn't indicate a specific person. The meaning of 'you' depends on who is talking."

Chuck's girlfriend, Laura, came out of the kitchen and plopped herself onto the sofa. "I hope Yitzi doesn't bite James."

"Yitzi wouldn't bite anyone. He's a good dog."

"He's an idiot. How can a talking dog be so dumb? When it comes to native intelligence, Aviva has him beat."  

Aviva, a pregnant, non-talking dachshund, lifted her head at the mention of her name, yawned and went back to sleep.

Chuck hugged the dog. "He can talk, but that doesn't make him smarter or better at solving problems."

The dog wiggled loose, scooted down to a spot between Chuck's legs and surveyed the room as if looking for further danger. "Yizzi suchasmartboy," he said, repeating the phrase strangers used when hearing him speak. "Viva stoopid.  Viva no talk. Yitzi talk"

Laura stood a rolled her eyes. "Yes, Yitzi talk, but Yitzi no shut up and Yitzi no use pronouns and Laura trapped in grade B movie where everyone speak pidgin-English." She stomped from the room.

Yitzi gave her a 'what-the-hell' look, then turned back to Chuck, let his tongue hang out and smiled. "Yizzi speak Engish."

*

Next morning, Chuck and Laura shared a strained silence at the breakfast table. Yitzi wolfed down his dog food, then cast covetous eyes at Aviva's dish. That mother-to-be lifted her lip and emitted a growl more expressive than any human words.

Laura banged her spoon on the table. "He's gonna steal her food again."

"I wish you'd stop complaining about my dog," Chuck said.

"I wish your dog would stop harassing mine."

Yitzi jumped up into Chuck's lap and focused his attention on the cereal bowl.

"Yitzhok Perlman Canine. No eat Daddy's food, understand? And no eat Aviva's food."

At the use of his full name, the dog's ears lay back and his tail drooped. He turned to Chuck and licked his nose. "Yizzi love Daddy. Yizzi hungry. Viva no need food. Viva stoopid. Yizzi suchasmartboy."

Laura tensed her face. "And he's always insulting her."

"So what?  She can't understand him."

"How do you know what she understands? She didn't have brain hormones shot into her skull when she was born, so she can't tell us."

"I thought you liked dogs."

"I like normal dogs, not braggart dogs always repeating themselves. I'm sick of the way he fawns on you, of his pushiness, his greed."

Chuck, no longer hungry, shoved his chair back. "Dogs are pushy, greedy animals. And as for repetition, well, he knows only a thousand words."

Laura leaned towards him. "Chuck, look, it's a shame you left the lab. Some of the new puppies are adorable. They have huge vocabularies, and they can think and reason as well as talk. The new voicebox surgery makes their voices sweet and their heads look almost normal, not with that ugly bump Yitzi has."

"Those dogs cost fifty grand."

"There's a beta puppy of a new model we could get for free like you got Yitzi. She's a purebred Corgie, not a mutt. She's so cute."

"Do you want another talking dog?"

"I don't mean in addition to Yitzi. I mean instead of Yitzi."

Chuck's eyes widened. "But Yitzi's my friend."

Laura sat up straight. "He's a dog. Sometimes I think you love him more than me." She took her half empty dish to the sink. "I'm going to work." A minute later, the front door slammed.

*

After Chuck left for work, Yitzi tried to pester Aviva into playing with him and met with his usual lack of success. Then a short, loud buzz sounded. He burst outside through the doggie door where he found a man bigger than Daddy and fat. He didn't smell friendly, but he gave Yitzi hamburger which Yitzi ate without asking questions. The man laughed and approached him. Yitzi tried to snarl, but felt dizzy and couldn't stand.

He woke up in a room with a musty, dead smell. No dogs ever lived there. He was inside a plastic box with a wire-mesh door--a cage. How humiliating. Cages were for stupid animals who couldn't talk, not for smart boys like Yitzi.

"Yizzi want Daddy," he whined. And whined, over and over again.

The big man, sitting at a table with a smaller, bearded man, said, "If that damned dog doesn't shut up, I'll bash his head in."

Yitzi's tail went down. Bashed head? Was the big man talking about him?

The small man said, "That'd be stupid. How much money would we get for a talking dog with a bashed head?"

Bigman stood, walked to Yitzi's cage, and banged on the top.

The dog yelped. "Yizzi want Daddy."

"You're scaring him. Leave him alone," Smallman said.

"I'll shut him up," Bigman muttered. He opened the cage door and reached towards the dog.

Yitzi bared his teeth and growled.

Smallman said, "If you want the dog to bite you, get a rabies shot first."

At that, Yitzi felt embarrassed and put his head between his paws. He wouldn't bite. Oh, he'd threatened to bite bad people, but Daddy said he was a good dog, and biting a person was one of the baddest things a puppy could do.

Apparently, the snarl was enough of a threat. Bigman, still muttering, withdrew his hand.

The door opened and a young woman with long hair and jeans entered. "Is that the pooch?" she asked, and walked towards Yitzi. "Hiya, doggie. My, you sure are an ugly mutt with that bump on your skull." She stuck her fingers through the top grate of the cage and scratched his head.

"Yizzi talk. Yizzi suchasmartboy."

The woman laughed. "Such a smart boy, are you? Tell me, who is Plato?"

"Plate o'food. Yizzi hungry."

Smallman chuckled. "He's smart about what matters to him."

"Yizzi want Daddy."

The woman said, "Don't worry, puppy. As soon as Daddy coughs up the money, Yitzi can go home."

Yitzi understood the words, but how could Daddy cough up money instead of gunk or a bit of stuck food? And why wouldn't Daddy just take out his wallet like when he bought Yitzi a toy or a snack. But the woman had said Daddy's cough could bring him back home, and he believed her.

The woman joined the two men at the table and turned to Bigman. "Sam, how did the snatch go?"

The big man grinned. "No problem. That owner is an idiot to leave a talking dog behind a plain wood fence."

She nodded. "Good. Is the recording ready for tomorrow?"

For an answer, the big man moved the computer mouse. An uninflected voice said, "Bring $50,000 dollars in a briefcase to the corner of Monterey and Granite Street. On the corner is a mailbox. You will find an envelope with instructions taped to the bottom of the mailbox. If anyone else comes, you will never see your dog again."

Smallman pushed his chair back. "Damn it. I told you $25,000. If we're greedy, we'll end up with nothing."

The big man stood and banged his meaty fist on the table. "I'm tired of you two bitching about me. If you don't like it, do it yourself," and he stormed out of the house.

Smallman looked at the woman. "He's a flake, and he's violent. If he injures the dog, it'll ruin the whole operation."

"He's supposed to watch the mutt tonight. Maybe you should take the shift for him."

"Ha, why don't you take it?"

The woman sighed. "I guess for one night, there won't be a problem. We'll give the dog more tranquilizer, Sam and the mutt will both sleep through the night. Tomorrow we'll get the money and it'll be over."

Smallman said, "Maybe we should give Sam tranquilizer as well."

*

When Chuck returned home that evening, he saw the note tacked onto the front door.

"We have your talking dog. Give us $50,000 if you want him back. Someone will call tomorrow to tell you where to take the money. DO NOT GO TO THE POLICE."

The letter was a computer printout where someone had crossed out an original figure of $25,000 and written $50,000 underneath.

A cold shock poured through Chuck. He tore open the door, ran through the house and checked all the rooms and hiding places, like the space behind the TV where the dog had once hid during one of his and Laura's fights.  He kept calling Yitzi's name, but with no answer. Aviva hopped around, her tail straight up, and barked her protests without giving any useful information.

Yitzi was nowhere to be found. In the back yard, Chuck saw the fence lock had been sawed loose.

He sat at the kitchen table, held his head in his hands and wanted to scream. It was tempting to suspect Laura of some cruel joke, but this wasn't her style.

He called the cops, who told him that abducting a dog, even a talking dog, was robbery, not kidnapping, and no, the FBI wouldn't be interested. The police promised to investigate as soon as they could.

Chuck reviewed his bank accounts--total of $45,732 in all. He could borrow another $5,000 on his credit card. That the kidnappers had changed the amount they wanted suggested they were unstable. He'd be better off giving them the full fifty thousand. When he got Yitzi back home, he'd put up an iron fence, burglar alarms, and have a GPS chip put into Yitzi so he could always be traced.

If he ever got Yitzi back home.

He put some left-over Chinese food in the microwave, but had couldn't eat. Was he really planning to empty his bank accounts for a dog? Yes. Without Yitzi, the house was too damn empty. He turned on the TV, but found only crappy programs. When, at nine o'clock, Viva started barking and he heard a key turn in the lock, he realized that Laura was two hours later than usual.

With a look of determination, Laura entered the house. "Chuck, I've been thinking a lot about this. I can't take second place to a dog. Either you get rid of him, or I'm leaving."

Did she even notice that Yitzi wasn't here? "I've given up friends for lovers in the past, and it doesn't work. I won't give in to ultimatums."

"I'm sorry to hear that. I'll be at my father's house for a few days if you change your mind." She went to the bedroom to pack some of her belongings, took Aviva, and left.

The house seemed emptier than ever.

*

Yitzi awoke in a dark room to the sound of snoring and moved to push himself in between Daddy and Laura.

He found the wires of the cage door.

Memories of the horrible yesterday flooded back and he whined, "Yizzi want Daddy."

No answer.

He tried again, this time louder. "Yizzi want Daddy."

"Shaddap, you mutt," came a snarl from the bed.

"Yizzi want Daddy."

"I said shut up or I'll wring your scrawny neck." Sam rolled out of bed, came over and banged on the cage.

Yitzi didn't know what 'wringing a neck' meant, but it scared him. He cowered without speaking for about fifteen minutes. Then he again whined, "Yizzi want Daddy." The cycle of whining and threats continued until an enraged Sam lifted the cage and shook it so hard that Yitzi was terrified into prolonged silence. He even dozed off. When he awoke, the room was bright with sunlight.

"Yizzi want go poop."

The snoring continued unabated.

"Yizzi want go poop." Louder.

"I told you to shut up, you God damned mutt."

Yitzi quieted for a while. Then he said, "Yizzi poop in house. Yizzi sorry. Please please no spank Yizzi."

"You son of a bitch dog, I'll teach you how to shut up," Sam said and stormed towards the cage.

'Son of a bitch,' was another baffling, scary phrase. Yitzi retreated to the soiled back of the cage and watched the man open the wire door. The cage offered enough room for him to dodge the man's hand darting around. Then the man lowered his face to Yitzi's level. Both man and dog bared their teeth. When the man shoved his hand directly towards Yitzi, the dog made a fateful decision.

Being a bad dog was better than letting this man grab him. He lunged and sank his teeth into Sam's palm.

Sam shrieked with pain and yanked his hand out of the cage, but Yitzi's jaws clamped down hard. While big man yelled and tried to pull the dog loose, Yitzi hung on with every drop of terrier blood--and 56 other varieties--in his veins.

The door opened and the young woman walked in. "What the hell is going on?"

Yitzi seized the moment. He let go, hit the ground, and bolted through the open door before it could close.

He dashed from the house, hearing the woman shout behind him, "Doggie, come back. We love you. We'll give you hamburger."

Yitzi loved hamburger, but not from those people. He dashed across the lawn, scrambled over a fence and kept on until sheer exhaustion forced him to slow down.

He found himself in a back yard underneath branches of a large pine tree. A bicycle and tricycle lay nearby. Heart pounding and gasping for breath, Yitzi dropped to the ground. A gopher hole nearby smelled interesting but he had neither the energy nor the will to investigate. The scent of children--sweat, shampoo, and milk--filled the yard. Yitzi put his head between his paws and keened his dismay.

"Hey, a dog," cried out a boy. Most boys were nice, but Yitzi knew one who liked to hurt dogs, and right now, he didn't want to risk meeting another. He sprinted into an open garage, found a pile of blankets, and burrowed into them. Inside was warm, it smelled of mouse poop, cat and other interesting odors, and under the blankets was dark so no one could see him. He felt safe.

"Where did he go?" a girl's voice asked.

"Under those blankets. See, his tail is waggling."

Oops. Yitzi tucked his tail between his legs, but it was too late. The covers disappeared from above, and he faced the boy and girl. "No hurt Yizzi," he whined.

"Wow, a talking dog," the boy said. "I seen them on television, but never thought I'd meet one."

"Yizzi talk. Yizzi suchasmartboy," he said, but in subdued tones. "No hurt Yizzi?"

"No, no, doggie. We won't hurt you. We're good kids."

"Yizzi want Daddy."

The little girl spoke up. "He wants to see Dad?"

"Don't be a dork. He wants his own daddy, not our Dad," the boy said.

"Can we keep him?"

"We'll ask Dad, but I don't think so. Talking dogs are pretty expensive."

*

The kids and their dad fed Yitzi and then took him to a veterinarian's office. It wasn't his own vet, but he recognized the animal-hospital smells. While the children and their father watched, a woman in a green uniform placed him on a table next to a computer like Daddy's and ran a strange thing over his back until the computer beeped.

The woman looked at the screen, then turned to Yitzi. "Daddy Charles Frankel, house on 27th street. Right?"

"Daddy Yizzi's daddy. Yizzi want Daddy."

The woman laughed. "Daddy come soon. Tell Daddy Yitzi need collar and tag, not just ID chip."

Yitzi liked this woman. She spoke his language, and her hands smelled of his favorite kibble.  

The children said goodbye. The green woman took Yitzi to a different room and put him in another cage. By now, he was too discouraged to feel humiliated. He sighed and hoped with all his little heart that Daddy would indeed come soon.

After what seemed like eternity, the door opened again and the green lady said, "Yitzi have visitor."

In walked Daddy. Yitzi's tail wagged like a propeller.

*

When Chuck's phone rang, he tensed, dreading the confrontation with the kidnappers. To his delight, it was a woman from the veterinarian's office.

"Mr. Frankel, we have your Yitzi here. Did he run away?"

Chuck's relief was so strong, he felt dizzy. He rushed to the vet's office, and was escorted into the room where Yitzi spun his tail and scrambled his paws on the cage door. Chuck drove home, and Yitzi panted with bliss as Chuck carried him like a baby from the car.

While walking to the house, a police car drove up and an officer got out. "Mr. Frankel. I'm here to take a statement about the robbery."

"I thought the police were too busy for a dognapping."

"Are you kidding? Stealing a talking dog is grand theft."

Yitzi turned his head to the cop. "Bad man say bash Yizzi head."

The officer stepped back. "Wow, he really does talk. Such a smart boy."

The dog's tail wagged. "Yizzi talk. Yizzi suchasmartboy."

The officer followed Chuck into the house and explained how Sam had gone to an emergency room for the bite on his hand, and was arrested. Sam confessed with full details, and threatened to sue Chuck because of the dog-bite.

"Can he do that?" Chuck asked.

"You can always sue, but his chance of succeeding is zilch."

"Will Yitzi have to testify?"

"Good question. The law isn't clear."

After the policeman left, Chuck put Yitzi on the sofa and sat in his easy chair. This time, he held his hands ready to catch the flying canine before it landed on his gut.

After the nose-licking ritual, Yitzi said, "Bad man scare Yizzi. Yizzi no eat hamburger from bad man again."

"Good dog. Yitzi learn." Chuck held up a finger. "Yitzi no take no food from no stranger never."

The tail drooped. "Tuckyfrichiken?"

"Not even Kentucky Fried Chicken."

"What is stranger?"

 "Stranger someone Daddy not know." Chuck had gone through this with his own children. Apparently, Yitzi had signed him up for another fifteen years of parenting.

Yitzi looked around the room. "Where Viva?"

"Aviva go away."

"Why Viva go away? Yizzi like Viva."

"But Yitzi say Aviva stupid."

"Viva stoopid. Yizzi like Viva. Viva no like Yizzi?"

"Aviva like Yitzi, but Aviva go away with Laura."

"Laura no like Yizzi?"

Chuck sighed, then shook his head. "No. Laura no like Yitzi."

The dog appeared to ponder that. Then his face brightened. "Daddy like Yizzi."

"Yes, Daddy like Yitzi very much."

"Yizzi love Daddy," he said and, exhausted after his ordeal, curled up into Chuck's arm and fell asleep.

<end>

 


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