This book should be available now, so this is the last snippet.

Marked Territory – Snippet 17

“The dachshund was named Frank,” I said. “I think the Yorkie was Charlie. We didn’t exactly introduce ourselves before getting down to business.”

“Haven’t heard of them,” Ringo said. “Chenzo, these mutts ring a bell with you?”

“Sure don’t, boss,” Chenzo said. “I can ask around, but they sound like a buncha nobodies.”

Ringo nodded again. He rubbed his paws together, then braced them next to his rear end. He sat up slowly, and opened his eyes halfway. He regarded me for a long moment.

“Thanks for all this,” Ringo said. “I appreciate you helping out. It won’t be forgotten.”

“Good,” I said, taking another moment to enjoy the sun before getting back to my feet. “We done here?”

“Yeah, we’re done,” Ringo said. “Go home, huh? Get yourself some rest. You look like you deserve it.”

I hopped down from the wall, grunting as my back hip hit a sour note. Bear moved to open the fence again, but I walked the other way. The smaller raccoons watched me come, their faces expressionless. One glanced over my shoulder at Ringo, then leaned back against the wall. If the boss didn’t have a problem with it, then it didn’t look like he had a problem with it. The other one kept his stare on me, doing his best to make me flinch. I pretended he wasn’t there, sidestepping over a rusting grate and then back out into the sidewalk shuffle.

Once I was back out in traffic, I turned north. I kept a steady pace, weaving between a dozen sets of legs. I took a detour east, ducking up a small side street before jogging back west again. I ran through the gutter, using a line of parked cars to make it hard to follow me. I crossed against a light and hopped up onto a wrought iron chair at a sidewalk cafe to watch my back trail. There was plenty of activity to see. A couple of squirrels were squabbling over a top branch, while some pigeons watched from a second-story ledge. A shaggy mutt was peering round an alley with eyes on a half-eaten hot dog that some guy in a yellow vest had set on the bench next to him while he looked at his phone. A black two-door with a recent shine job almost got bumper jacked by a flatbed whose driver was belching even more smoke than his ride. No one seemed to be paying me any special kind of attention, though. After a couple of minutes went by, I got down off the chair and turned my nose homeward.

Even though I was pretty confident I didn’t have anyone dogging me, it took a couple of blocks for the knot between my shoulder blades to let go and for my hackles to fully lay themselves back down. I stopped about halfway back to my place to lap some water from a discarded plastic cup and to rest a bit. My back paw was throbbing, but when I bent down to check there was no real swelling in it. Once I’d taken a minute or two to get my breath, I headed off again.

The sun was still up by the time I made it back to my part of the Bronx, but the sky was looking decidedly ruddy. The warmth was bleeding out of the day, too, reminding people that winter wasn’t that far gone. I didn’t mind. Walking home had stretched my muscles, and with most of my undercoat still clinging to me I relished the chilly wind raking its fingers through my mane and down my back. But I was still impatient enough that when the light changed against me I didn’t wait for the traffic signal to give me the okay to cross the last street.

I was ready for problems when I came round the corner, but my alley was pretty much the same as it had been when I left. I nosed around between the cans and crouched down to look under the dumpster, but I didn’t turn up so much as a mouse. I was just about to lap some of the fresh water out of my bowl when the back door opened, and Christina stepped out. Her thick, black hair was down, and her arms were damp to the elbows, which meant she’d been doing the end-of-day washing up. She had my food bowl in one hand and set it down on the stoop.

“There you are, big guy,” she said, running her nails between my ears. “Haven’t seen you around. You been keeping busy?”

I leaned up into her manicure and gave Christina a deep, rumbling purr before I butted her calf with my head. A proper greeting given, I dove into the evening scraps with a will. Christina patted my flank and added a few more scratches along my ribs before she shoved open the dumpster lid and stepped back inside. The door’s lock clicked shut, and that was when I heard the rustle of wings up above. I raised my head, and saw a skinny crow shuffling along the ledge above me. I peered up at him, licking my lips.

“Cayce put you on the evening shift, Allen?” I asked.

“Uh-huh.” The black bird craned his neck, trying to see past me. “Don’t suppose there’s anything left?”

“Not in this bowl,” I said, jerking my chin up the open trash dump. “You hurry, you might be able to snatch something.”

Allen didn’t wait for a second invitation. He dove down from the ledge, rooting around enthusiastically for nearly a minute before he flapped out. He had a hefty chunk of fat and gristle clutched in one claw, and he hopped to the ground, wings flapping to slow his fall. He managed to land in the shadow of an old crate just as the door swung open again. Christina came out huffing and puffing, a heavy black trash bag in each hand. She paused in front of the dumpster long enough to catch her breath before hefting first one, then the other bag in. Wiping her forehead on her sleeve, she pushed the lid shut with a crash and retreated back inside.

“You’re safe,” I said, putting my front paws on either side of my food dish and shoving my muzzle in to get the last few shreds my initial assault had missed. “Once the trash is out, it’s quiet for the night out here.”

Allen hopped out of the shadows, his bloody prize in hand. He flapped onto the stoop next to me, got a hold on the gristle with both claws, and started pecking and tearing. I lapped some more water and lay down. I was tired in a way that had very little to do with my walk home across the Bronx. I shifted, trying to get comfortable as the shadows grew a little deeper.

“So how did whatever business you were taking care of go?” Allen asked, throwing back his head to swallow down a mouthful of slightly overripe beef.

I licked my chops again. In my mind’s eye I saw Ringo nodding his head as I told him what went down, then dusting off his paws as if the matter was settled. I saw the murder in Frank’s eyes before he turned away. I’d seen that look before, and I knew that for the scar-nosed dog, this fight wasn’t over yet. The only question was whether he’d have the guts to come at me himself, or if he’d lie down and play dead until he could find another pack to back him up for another try. I tried to remind myself that I’d done my good deed. That if Frank was smart, he’d take the lesson and slink off to some other corner of the city. Even in my head I didn’t sound all that convincing.

“Could have gone better, Allen,” I said, putting my head down on my paws. “It could have gone better.”