By Zvi Zaks
Copyright 2010 by Zvi Zaks
Chuck Frankel sensed two eyes scrutinizing him, but he lowered himself into the reclining chair anyway. Twenty pounds of brown, mixed-breed canine launched itself from the nearby couch and landed on his stomach. Though Chuck was a muscular forty-year old, 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 a conspicuous bulge on the side of the dog's skull. "Yitzi, 'you' is a pronoun. It doesn't indicate a specific person like our neighbor, Mr. Yu. The meaning of 'you' depends on who is talking."
Chuck's girlfriend, Laura, came out of the kitchen and plopped herself onto the sofa next to Aviva, a pregnant, non-talking dachshund. "Yitzi better not 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."
At the mention of her name, Aviva lifted her head from the sofa pillow, yawned and went back to sleep.
Chuck hugged Yitzi. "Speech helps him communicate, but it 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 cocked his head in a 'what-the-hell' look, then turned back to Chuck, let his tongue hang out and smiled. "Yizzi speak ingish."
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 Perelman Canine. No eat Daddy's food, hear? And no eat Aviva's food."
At the use of his full name, Yitzi'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's face tensed. "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 ugly braggart dogs always repeating themselves. I'm sick of the way he fawns on you, of his pushiness, his greed."
The 'ugly' comment stung. Chuck shoved his chair away from his breakfast. "Of course he fawns on me. I'm his daddy. And as for repetition, well, his vocabulary is limited."
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 hideous 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."
Chuck stared at his girlfriend. Laura had pleasantly understated curves and a pixie-like face. When they first started dating, she was generous and fun to be with, but lately her need always to be center stage was driving him nuts. "Are you jealous of my dog?"
Laura looked away. "Of course not." She stood and took her half-empty dish to the sink. "I'm going to work." A minute later, the front door slammed.
Yitzi watched Chuck leave a few minutes later. When the house was empty of people, he 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 smelled of beer and anger, but he gave Yitzi hamburger which the dog scarfed down 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 that said no dogs had 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, beery smelling 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 smaller man said, "That'd be stupid. How much money would we get for a talking dog with a bashed head?"
Beersmell stood, walked to Yitzi's cage, and banged on the top.
The dog yelped. "Yizzi want Daddy."
"You're scaring him. Leave him alone," the smaller man said.
"I'll shut him up," Bigman muttered. He opened the cage door and reached inside.
Yitzi bared his teeth and growled.
Smallman stood, walked to the beery smelling man and said, "If you want him to bite you, get a rabies shot first." He pulled Beersmell's arm away from the cage.
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.
Whether because of the snarl or Smallman's intervention, Beersmell, still muttering, closed the cage door and went back to the table.
The door opened, and a young woman with long hair, jeans, and the smell of shampoo 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 head." She stuck her fingers through the top grate of the cage and scratched his scalp.
"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. The little man asked her, "Are you sure you got the right phone number?"
She grinned. "I work for his provider. It wasn't hard." She turned to Beersmell. "Sam, how did the snatch go?"
The beery smelling man chuckled. "No problem. That owner is an idiot to leave an expensive 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 $40,000 dollars in a briefcase to the corner of McKee and Jackson. You will find an envelope with further instructions taped to the bottom of the mailbox there. If anyone comes with you, you will never see your dog again."
Smallman pushed his chair back. "Damn it. I told you $20,000. If we're greedy, we'll end up with nothing."
The big man stood. "I'm tired of you two bitching about me. If you don't like it, do it yourself." He banged a meaty fist on the table and stormed out of the house.
Smallman looked at the woman. "He's a flake, and he's violent. We never should have let him talk us into this caper."
"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, and tomorrow we'll get the money and it will 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. You will need $40,000 to get him back. You will get a telephone call tomorrow telling 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 $20,000 and written $40,000 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 police emergency line. A clerk told him that abducting a dog, even a talking dog, was robbery, not kidnapping.
"Yitzi's a talking dog. Doesn't that matter?"
"I'm afraid not, sir. A dog is a dog. We have serious matters to investigate. A stolen pet is low priority and shouldn't be reported as an urgent matter."
"So you won't do anything?"
"I didn't say that. I'll tell my supervisor about your animal, but frankly, we're swamped with real crimes."
Chuck reviewed his bank accounts--total of $35,732 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 forty thousand. When he got Yitzi back home, he'd put up an iron fence, burglar alarms, and have a micro-GPS put into the animal so he could always be located.
If he ever got Yitzi back home.
He put some left-over Chinese food in the microwave, but had no appetite. 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 looked like she was going to cry.
"Laura, please don't leave."
"You've made your choice." She went to the bedroom, and returned a few minutes later with a bulging suitcase. Then she picked up Aviva and walked out the front door.
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."
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, shut up or I'll teach you how," Beersmell said.
'Son of a bitch,' was another baffling, scary phrase. Yitzi retreated to the soiled back of the cage and barked several times in protest. Other dogs in the area took up the chorus, leading to a cacophony of canine outrage.
"That does it," Beersmell said. He walked to the cage and opened the wire door. The enclosure offered enough room for Yitzi 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 the 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. With his free hand, Sam punched Yitzi in the head. Once. Twice. Yitzi clamped down even harder.
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 to the open door.
"Close it, you idiot," Beersmell yelled, but too late.
Yitzi dashed from the house, hearing the woman shout behind him, "Doggie, come back. We love you. We'll give you hamburger."
Hamburger was Yitzi's favorite, but not from those people. He dashed across the lawn. A Rottweiler out walking with its daddy barked and lunged the length of its leash toward Yitzi. Yitzi changed course, scrambled over an adjacent fence and jumped into someone's back yard. Big mistake. A pitbull roared its protest at the invasion and rushed towards Yitzi. This dog had no leash. Yitzi made a mad dash towards a small hole in the fence and, with all his effort, manage to squeeze himself through it. The pitbull crashed into the other side of the fence a moment later.
At the point, sheer exhaustion forced Yitzi to slow down. He found himself in a quiet back yard underneath branches of a large pine tree. A bicycle and tricycle lay nearby. Heart pounding and gasping for breath, he 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, soap, 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 animals, 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 under the covers."
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 Hamann Drive. 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, and the little girl gave Yitzi a hug. Then the green woman took him 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.
Chuck slept little that night, and called in sick the next morning so he'd be home when the kidnappers delivered their next demands. When Chuck's phone rang, he tensed, dreading the confrontation. To his relief, it was a woman from a veterinary office.
"Mr. Frankel, we have your Yitzi here. Did he run away?"
Chuck's relief was so strong, he felt dizzy. The vet's office was in north San Jose, just a few miles from where he lived. He rushed there and was escorted into a room lined with cages and barking dogs. In one of those cages, Yitzi stood on his hind legs, spinning his tail and scrambling his front paws on the cage door. Chuck left a message thanking the who had found Yitzi and drove home with his dog.
Chuck carried Yitzi like a baby from the car to the house, while his pet panted with bliss. 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."
The officer laughed. "Trust me, that idiot clerk now knows that stealing a talking dog is grand theft, not a minor infraction."
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. The police had already notified local medical facilities, and Sam was arrested. He 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.
ALSO BY ZVI ZAKS
(available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and others)
A TRUE SON OF ASMODEUS
Confirmed rationalist Dr. Eli Rothenberg thought he had left fantasy and talk of childhood psychic gifts in the past. However, a crisis of conscience sends him to Europe on a research grant, and Eli finds himself pursued by an ancient vampiric entity, the ghost of Hitler. A Hasidic Jew he'd met while traveling tells him he must embrace Jewish lore to fight this monster. To Eli, this is a betrayal of his principles, but gradually he must accept his destiny and religious heritage. By joining a tightly-knit traditional Jewish community and meeting with spiritual warriors--Perceptives--of all faiths, he hones his skills. After months of training and doubt, Eli goes to the sites of the death camps in Dachau and Auschwitz where he must confront and defeat a power of pure evil.
A VIRTUAL AFFAIR
Think how great virtual sex must be. Now think again.
Barbara is a sexual simulation designed to make men happy. When flabby, neurotic Jack tests the program, he triggers a feedback loop that awakens it. The erstwhile pornbot becomes a 'she', and discovers sex is not happiness.
Jack and Barbara start an affair, and she learns that nagging Jack to be healthy doesn't work; it just pisses him off.
Barbara studies psychology and discovers how people need to think they control their own lives, especially when they don't.She manipulates Jack in elaborate, sneaky and effective ways.Jack becomes healthy and happy.
She then 'helps' others. Her abilities are awesome. She can hack into any computer and is not above using sabotage and blackmail--all in the service of people's happiness.Could she, like HAL in 2001, go berserk?
Barbara can mimic humanity, but she isn't human.What are her intentions?She could end up a virtual messiah, or doom us all to cheerful mindlessness.
Decades after a war against genocidal self-aware machines, schools, churches and government are all insisting that none of the sadistic implacs (implacable robots) had survived, but Tommy McPherson is skeptical. When he hears about a unnatural looking tunnel on the moon, he knows the time had come to face his most terrifying nightmares. With the aid of a friend, Murray, he enters the tunnel and manages to capture a lone robot. It admits its original intention to emerge at a future date, copy itself, and fight humans, but says a random circuit change deleted its hatred of people. It adds that other robots lay in wait to emerge, copy themselves, and resume the war. It can find those other implacs, but only if it is freed.
Should Tommy release it? Though vicious and sadistic, the robots had never been known to lie. In this society, Tommy can't ask the authorities for help. If he wrongly believes the implac, it will escape, resume the war, and destroy humanity. If he thinks it's lying when it's telling the truth, other implacs will escape - and destroy humanity.
Tommy travels between Venus, Earth and Luna, fights stubborn and sometimes lethal bureaucracies, and finds his true love before making this fateful decision.