Today, we want to present you with Chapter 1 as a FREE excerpt. Before we get to that, we have a special announcement.
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And now we present, Chapter 1 of Scout and Malcolm.
The odor is wild and musky. A bit like coyote but not quite. I stand on the porch and take in several quick breaths, scanning the air to no avail. I must investigate this threat, even if it means that I will be late for work. I head straight for the loose fence board, third from the end, hidden behind the oak tree. I push it forward with my head and slip out into the back alley.
The stench is stronger out here. I take quick sniffs of the ground, moving back and forth. It grows more and more intense as I track, sending an involuntary chill down my back.
The piercing shrieks of a chicken… Rita Mae! I take off toward the house of my favorite feathered friend. As I arrive, I peer through her fence and see a cloud of white feathers swirling in the air. Rita Mae is charging across her yard, pursued closely by a sleek, musky-smelling red fox with its jaws wide open.
“Help! Help, Scout! MAKE IT STOP!” yells Rita Mae, wings flapping, feet dancing, kicking up a haze of dust.
My eyes dart along the fence. How did the fox get in there? A mound of loose dirt is sitting at the far end of Rita Mae’s fence. I charge toward it and dive into the fox’s tunnel headfirst. My front legs and head pass through easily but when I get to my belly, I’m stuck. I shimmy and wiggle but make little progress.
“Uugh, nooo, come on. Suck in your gut,” I command, willing myself onward.
I stop to catch my breath for a moment and notice Rita Mae’s squawks have stopped. The yard is completely silent. Where did she go? Where’s the fox? Did he eat her?
“What the cluck, Scout? Cluck. Cluck,” Rita Mae demands from the top of her coop.
“Bhahaha, what a chunky dog you are!” comes the taunting voice of the fox.
He has fallen to the ground laughing, too distracted by me to focus on Rita Mae. “Am I supposed to be afraid of you? Fat chance. Oh, good one, Fitzy. So punny.”
Oh, Husky no! He did not just refer to himself in third fox. He’s going down. But first, I need to get through this darn hole. I wiggle with a new intensity, glaring at my furry foe as he laughs in my face. Every snicker adds more fuel to my fire. Then in one quick movement, I squirt free of the tunnel and charge toward the pompous fox.
“Oh, shoot. Fat dog got free,” says Fitzy, scrambling to get his footing.
“Who’s laughing now?” I snarl. In one lunge, my mouth is nearly around his skinny neck. He scrambles out of my reach, but I don’t give up easily. “You think you can just come in here and eat Rita Mae? Uh-uh, Fitzy. Not on my watch,” I growl.
“Yeah, Scout! Get him!” screeches Rita Mae, hopping up and down on top of her coop.
I grab a mouthful of Fitzy’s tail and clamp down with the full force of my jaws. He yowls, leaps into the air and charges forward. I lose my grip, and I am only left with tufts of fur in my mouth. The foul fox bolts through his narrow tunnel and scampers down the alley.
“Don’t ever come back!” I bark at him before falling to the ground, panting. I spit out the disgusting red fur balls. I almost had him. One more step and it would have been lights out for Fitzy. What a shame.
“You did it, Scout. You saved me! Cluck. Cluck. And it’s a good thing too. You know I’m an only chicken. My mom would lose it if something ever happened to me.”
“All in a day’s work… I’m glad I was… passing by,” I manage, breathless.
Rita Mae flutters off her coop to join me on the ground. As she walks toward me, she pecks at the dirt, looking for any morsel of food she can find.
“Polish Chickens love to eat, love to eat, love to eat,” Rita Mae sings to the tune of “London Bridge” as she throws back bits of grain.
I watch the feathers on her head flop up and down as she pecks in a circle around me. Rita Mae is not your average chicken. She is a Polish Chicken, as she often reminds me. All of her plumage is marshmallow white and the feathers on her head are elongated, so it looks like she is wearing a fluffy headdress. The only spot of color on her is the small red wattle that sticks out under her beak.
I peel myself off the ground and survey the alley. No sign of Fitzy to the left or to the right. A quick inspection of the yard reveals no additional fox-sized entry points.
“I’m late for work, Rita Mae. I don’t think the fox will bother you again, but I’ll keep a look out.” I shimmy my way out of Fitzy’s tunnel and kick the pile of dirt back into the hole. “Make sure to show this spot to your mom so she can fill it in better.”
“Yes, ma’am, Scout. Thanks again. Cluck. Cluck. And hey… not bad for a chunky dog.”
“Always knew you were a bad egg, Rita Mae.” I chuckle at my own retort. “Stay out of trouble and have a good day.”
I continue my regular route to work. Back alleys are the safest byways for dog detectives to travel. Don’t want any meddlesome humans interfering in my business. I am not a lost dog.
Usually I am extremely punctual, but today, saving Rita Mae’s chicken butt has put me way behind schedule. The Captain won’t be happy. I change alleys twice before arriving at work. The sign above the door says, “PAWS Dog Boarding and Obedience School,” in blinding neon pink letters. I lurk in the alley next to PAWS and wait for a human to open the front door.
Three months after I was adopted, my family brought me to puppy classes here. I didn’t really need to go to school because I was the perfect puppy, but somehow obedience school is the “in” thing to do.
During my time in class, I noticed unaccompanied dogs walking toward the back boarding kennels. Who were they? Where were their humans? At the final puppy session, I snuck away to investigate and discovered the Captain sitting at the entrance to the kennels.
“We’ve been waiting for you,” he said. I almost wet myself but didn’t − because I am a dignified dog. He offered me a position in the High Order of Undercover Dog Detectives, HOUNDD for short, and I started training at the Academy the next week. That was three years ago. Now, I lead the Missing Creatures Unit of HOUNDD.
Presently, an old man wearing a purple velvet tracksuit and smelling of macaroni and cheese with a hint of tuna approaches the door. A Whoodle puppy is trailing behind him. She keeps getting tangled up in her own leash. At least I think she’s a Whoodle. These designer crossbreeds are all the rage. I try to keep track, but it’s confusing. Wheaten Terrier plus Poodle makes Whoodle. Or is it Pooten? Either way, I fall into step with them and walk through the doorway. They don’t even notice me.
PAWS is covered from floor to ceiling in pink: from the vivid fuchsia wallpaper to the magenta floor tiles to the plump rose-colored chairs. Amid the sea of pink is a full-size, life-like statue of a wrinkled English Bulldog perched on the reception desk. He is white with splashes of brindle, and if you look closely, you can see his toenails are painted hot pink. This is the PAWS mascot, also known as the Captain.
I make my way toward the boarding kennels. My journey takes me past the piles of dog food for sale, the double doors that lead to the training arena and storage cubbies full of training equipment, including clickers, hurdles and cones.
There aren’t many dogs being kenneled today. I walk by a pint-sized Yorkshire terrier yipping at her own shadow. Then I tiptoe past a dreaming St. Bernard, legs twitching as he chases an imaginary rabbit. At the end of the row is Kennel K9. It looks like all of the other kennels. Only HOUNDD detectives know that it’s different.
I am positive that I have not been followed, but I check behind me once more. No humans. No cats. The coast is clear. Rule Number Five of HOUNDD: Always check for tails, especially cats.
I enter through Kennel K9’s open gate and walk to the back. I put my front left paw into the empty water bowl and press down. A small touchscreen rises from a crack in the floor and stops at my eye level.
I hold my nose in front of it. A green band of light flashes across the screen, scanning my nose. The nose print of every dog is distinct, like human fingerprints. The screen displays my official HOUNDD photo and reads:
Name: Scout Louanne Peck
Rank: Detective Sergeant
Department: Missing Creatures Unit
Coat Color: Tan
Weight: 35 pounds
Years of Service: Three
I chuckle every time I see “35 pounds.” Last time I went to the vet, I weighed 43, but that is my little secret. The grubby white wall in front of me slides upward, and I step inside HOUNDD Headquarters.
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