The Soggy Tennis Ball
“What’s she doing here?” Zach looked at Binny but motioned towards Penny.
“This is Penny.”
“I know.” It was clear Zach didn’t consider his question answered.
A nervous look passed between the girls. Binny hastened to add, “She’s cool. She’s gonna help us.”
“You told her?” Zach was incredulous, barely remembering to keep his voice down.
“Yeah, and she believed me.” Binny shot Penny a smile.
Zach had an exasperated look on his face. “OK. Fine. But no one else… okay?” He looked at both girls waiting for their assent.
Both girls nodded seriously. Zach held up the steak with a grin.
“She’s got pretzels now?” The kids were on their knees with their heads poking out just above the fence so they could evaluate the scene in front of them. Zach continued, “When did she get pretzels?”
“The man brought her pretzels when she finished plowing through the chips.” Binny offered.
Zach was trying to formulate a plan.
“I want to get kidnapped by this guy.” Binny and Zach swung their heads around to stare at Penny. But in an instant both were trying to stifle their laughs when they realized she was kidding.
“We just need to figure out how to keep the man in the other room so we can grab Cassie.” Zach said.
“He comes out to check on her every five minutes and then heads back into the other room down the hall on his phone call.”
“OK. So we wait until the man goes back to his phone call and then we move.”
“Who’s going to distract the dog with the steak?” Penny whispered.
“Me.” Zach said, resigned.
“But you’re afraid of – ”
Zach shot Binny a look that stopped her before she could complete her sentence.
“As soon as the man gets back on the phone, I’ll lure the dog away from the door with the steak. As soon as the dog goes for it, you two go grab Cassie, and we run home back this way through the alley.”
After a minute or two the man had made his regular appearance to check up on Cassie’s eating and coloring. She was apparently making acceptable progress on both fronts as the man put the phone back to his ear, and headed down the hallway to his office.
The plan was set in motion. Bending down, Zach slipped through the partially opened gate. It didn’t take long for the large dog to lose interest in his soggy tennis ball at the sight of Zach entering the yard.
Binny thought Zach looked pretty scared, but to his credit he stood his ground as the dog approached. Binny suspected that Zach couldn’t stretch his arm to hold the steak any further away from himself without pulling his arm out of its socket.
The dog came forward to carefully examine Zach’s offering, giving it a couple of sniffs. Everything was going exactly as planned.
But all of a sudden, the dog lost interest in the steak, instead deciding to examine Zach. Zach took a step backwards. The dog followed. Zach wanted to get as far away as possible from the dog and flung the bait into a far corner of the yard. But the shaggy creature didn’t follow. It just took another step towards Zach.
Zach had positioned himself such that the dog was forcing him to walk backwards, right into view of the man’s office!
There was no mistaking the look on Zach’s face now. He was petrified.
“The steak is frozen.”
“What?” Binny said.
“The steak is frozen.” Penny whispered again.
“Well of course it’s frozen. He got it from the freezer.” Binny replied.
“The dog’s not interested in it because it’s frozen.”
Binny was immediately embarrassed at their stupidity. The dog would be interested in a steak, but a steak-flavored block of ice? Apparently not.
“Zach’s running out of room.” Penny sounded concerned. “We need to do something.”
Penny was right. They needed to do something before Zach freaked out and was seen by the man. Binny scanned the yard, desperate to find something, anything to help. And then, there it was. The ball. The soggy tennis ball that had no doubt spent hours, maybe even days or weeks lodged in that large dog’s mouth. At one time it had been a bright yellow. Now it was a mottled grayish-brown. Before she even realized what she was doing, Binny shot through the gate and was headed to retrieve the ball. Penny followed.
The dog was now very confused. Should he continue to stalk his current prey or go sniff the two girls on the other side of the yard? As he was deciding, Binny raised the ball in her hand trying to catch the dog’s eye. It was so wet and slimy. She tried hard not to think about it.
When she had the dog’s attention, Binny threw the ball to the opposite corner of the large yard, urging the dog silently in her mind to fetch it. The dog bolted for the ball, and Zach stood frozen for a moment, not believing his luck.
Binny motioned for him to come to where she and Penny were, out of the man’s sight, before the dog could return with his quarry. The kids rushed to the door to get to Cassie before the man came to check on her. Binny got there first, trying the handle, but it was locked.
“Let me try.” Zach pushed towards the door, extremely nervous in the knowledge that the dog was already padding back towards them, ball clenched firmly in his large mouth.
The handle wouldn’t move. Binny didn’t remember the man locking the door after he’d closed it? Zach was getting more and more stressed. As the dog approached, all three kids were leaning against the door, frantically trying to push it open.
Just then Penny reached her hand up to the door handle, gripping it tightly while she closed her eyes in concentration. The kids heard the sound of small metal pieces hitting the deck, the door slid open, and they fell backwards into the house in a pile.
Their entry into the house had not been exactly quiet. Penny was the first to sit up. In her hand was the door handle. “You were right,” Penny whispered to Binny. “It is good for something.”
Before Zach had too much of a chance to consider how Penny had broken the door handle, or to wonder what the consequences would be for vandalizing a stranger’s house, he needed to focus on a more pressing problem. The dog was a few feet from the door, and to Zach he did not look friendly at all.
Zach grabbed at the door frame sliding it shut just before that big snout came poking through, hoping for another game of catch. But just as that danger was averted, Zach heard an insistent beep-beep-beeping. Zach recognized the sound. It was the sound he heard when they would enter their own house. It was the sound that told them they had sixty seconds to prove they had a right to be there before the police were called.
“What is that sound?” Penny whispered.
“It sounds like our alarm.” Binny said looking up to see where it was coming from.
“It is the house alarm. We set it off,” stated Zach matter-of-factly.
“What?” Now it was Binny’s turn to look petrified, realizing just how many rules they had broken. Penny on the other hand appeared to be enjoying this adventure immensely.
“In our house we have sixty seconds to turn it off. I’m guessing twenty seconds have gone by.”
“So we have forty seconds to get out of here?”
“Or to turn it off.” Zach was up off the floor and heading towards the keypad on the wall. Without hesitation, he started punching in numbers.
Binny had been about to run, when Zach’s actions made her stop in surprise. How could Zach possibly know the code to the man’s house alarm?
After Zach pressed a long string of numbers, the beeping stopped.
Binny was so amazed she could barely mouth the question, “How did you do that?” But Zach wasn’t listening, he was looking around the room and beyond into the living room.
Binny and Penny followed his gaze, and had barely gathered their thoughts when Zach asked, no longer whispering, “But why was the alarm on?”
“Because there’s nobody here.” Penny offered matter-of-factly. “You turn on the alarm when you leave.”
“What!?” Now Binny wasn’t whispering either.
Zach walked over to the table where Cassie had been coloring. Her stack of pictures was gone. All that was left in the bowl were a few measly broken pretzel ends. “The man must have taken her while we were still in the backyard,” Zach was on the verge of tears now.