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Bonfire of the Puggle

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It was, as it turned out, Ricky’s 17th-birthday party, and friends and family began to fill the hall. Ricky’s mother, a blonde with a massive lip piercing, came out and demanded I.D.’s. We produced our I.D. badges, explaining that we were not cops but forensic pathologists, then explaining what forensic pathologists were. The discovery triggered a wave of giggly ewwws.

Roberto, bless him, argued our case to Ricky and his mother, his voice rising. Ricky’s mother declared that even without the money, it was right that the dog should be returned to Cricket, but checked to confirm the reward.

Finally, Ricky spoke up. A handsome kid in a black doo-rag and oversize Jay-Z T-shirt, he explained that Bean (the well of our skepticism had by now run dry, and we were embracing as fact the notion that this dog was, in fact, Bean) had been a special gift to his pregnant girlfriend. They’d renamed her Star, and Jeannie, the girlfriend, had taken Star to Staten Island, then up to the Bronx. Ricky called her cell, but she wouldn’t answer; she was upset and didn’t want to give up Star. She’d had Star for two days now and loved her; she didn’t want the reward. Maybe she could just pay Cricket to keep her and that would be that.

There was some debate, then we left Roberto and Cliff behind (Roberto having decided that his reputation could take no more shellacking) and bundled into the car to drive up to the Bronx to reason with Jeannie. In the car, Ricky entertained Cricket with stories about how, when they first got Star, she was “mad scared”; Cricket lapped it up. Yes, Bean would be mad scared! It would be so like Bean to be mad scared!

VI. The Bronx

It was well after 1 a.m. when we arrived at the Bronx project. Where the Manhattan complex had been tidy and almost familiar, this project had a much tougher feel, enhanced by Ricky’s announcement that it scared him to go there. When we parked, we spotted an unmarked police car, and squad cars and foot patrols swept the perimeter regularly.

Ricky glumly climbed out and went into the main building. We waited by the car with his mom for what felt like an interminably long time, watching the building entrance for signs of Ricky or puggles. The cops eyed us but didn’t approach, probably figuring we were there to score drugs. Indeed, no one hassled us at all, although a tossed bottle shattered near the car.

Finally, two girls came out, each with a small dog; they started to run, disappearing into the warren of buildings and lawns. Ricky came out gesturing that he’d lost Jeannie; we all pointed in her direction, and he chased after her. Cricket—who had by now been awake for three days, consuming nothing but coffee and Marlboro Lights—was on the verge of collapse.

About half an hour later, Ricky came toward us with Jeannie, a lovely girl with hair in wavy ringlets. She’d been crying, but she handed over the dog and said sweetly, “You should have her. She’s yours.”

And there was Bean.

She was half-hidden behind Jeannie, peering out as we waited for her to come to us. She hesitated, but when she heard Cricket’s voice, she sidled over, ducking her head to be stroked, wriggling as Cricket picked her up, then licking her face.

We tried to thank Jeannie and give her back the pink collar and lead with rhinestones that she’d bought for Bean, but she walked away sobbing, shoulders hunched. She crossed the plaza toward two men I could make out only as beefy silhouettes in white muscle shirts; Ricky said they were her uncles. I figured we should get back to Manhattan as quickly as possible.

In the car, Bean was subdued, shaking in Cricket’s lap as the bridge lights flashed by. We stopped at the bank and gave Ricky his thousand, then dropped Cricket at home with Bean and took Ricky and his mother back to their place.

An hour or so later, Ricky called Cricket to say that Jeannie’s uncles had come to his house and taken the $1,000; later, though, they worked out a fair way to share the money. The next day, Cricket paid Roberto a $500 finders’ fee, throwing in an extra $40 for Cliff.

VII. The Aftermath

It took a little while for the crisis-related epiphenomena to die down. The next day, Cricket bumped into a grandmotherly type she’d met while looking for Bean. The woman was happy she’d gotten Bean back but said that Cricket really should protect her skin, because her freckles meant she was a setup for a melanoma; later, she called to scold Cricket, telling her to take down all the flyers immediately because she’d met many people who were upset over Bean’s loss. Altogether, we’d put up over 500 flyers; we took down most, leaving some up with the word found! written across them.


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