Chapter 4

That night in bed, in his small room above the deli, Ari had a terrifying dream. He was getting married to Flossie Beemis, who gazed at him all dewy-eyed from behind a dangling veil of spaghetti noodles, while Arden Feeny read the vows from an enormous dictionary and Finbar Fenker cackled insanely from the choir loft. It was a dream he’d have been happy to forget, but something startled him into waking up.

Ari sat up dizzily, trying to shake the image of Flossie in a spaghetti veil out of his mind when there was a loud clunk from below him in the kitchen. The clunk was followed quickly by a crash.

Uncle Ellery almost never stayed up late, especially when the bagel dough had already been thoroughly pounded. Ari guessed it must be the shock of the bank letter making it so he couldn’t sleep.

Well, Ari could sleep, and this time he intended to keep Flossie Beemis safely out of his dreams. He had just closed his eyes in determination when two more noises caused him to jump again. The first was another loud clunk below him. The second was the unmistakable honk of Uncle Ellery snoring like a foghorn in the bedroom across the hall. So if Uncle Ellery was snoring, who, or what, went clunk downstairs?

Ari kicked off his blanket and slid quietly into the hallway. Uncle Ellery was still snorting and buzzing from his room as Ari crept down the staircase, past the “Employees Only” sign, and peeked into the dark deli.

Something–a rat? a raccoon?–was rooting through the trash can behind the cash register.

I emptied that trash…there’s nothing in there, Ari thought as he grabbed a Soffit’s Deli yardstick (which they gave out free to customers) for protection and crept quietly toward the trash can.

But empty or not, something was nosing through the can anyway. A small pointy eared thing which seemed to reflect the glow of the streetlamp outside.

It’s a little ratty chihuahua, Ari realized, and he squatted to have a better look.

“Hey,” he said. “Hey doggie, come here.”

The doggie ignored Ari, and continued its efforts to shred the plastic trash-can liner.

Ari took a pretzel out of a jar on the counter and dangled it tantalizingly in front of the chihuahua.

“Doggie!” he repeated.

This time the dog turned, and with a gaze that was intense but oddly distant, snatched the pretzel, and retreated to eat next to the trash can. It puzzled Ari a great deal to realize he still had the pretzel in his hand.

“Y’all kin feed’im all day,” said a chuckling voice from behind Ari, which startled him so much he almost fell over. “He won’t never get tired of it!”

Ari spun on his heels toward the voice.

There was a man sitting in the booth behind him, highlighted by the glow of the streetlamp through the window. A man in a white sailor cap whose gaze was befuddled, and somehow not quite there.

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