The door to the relay station flew open, and a howl roared through the room. At the farthest corner, next to a computer stand, a huge black figure was doubling over.
Before I could take cover, the figure straightened up, and I saw who it was.
“There’s my dog.” Kojak, still rolling with laughter, came running toward me and gave me a bearhug. “How’s it going, Hobo?”
Completely thrown for a loss, I peeked around him looking for Ludwig. He was right behind Kojak.
“Look who I ran into,” Ludwig said with a big smile on his face.
“And look who I caught,” Kojak barked. “Our good friend Ludwig, fooling around in the Internet tunnels again, racing like a lunatic. But he can tell the most hilarious jokes.”
I wiggled out of Kojak’s legs. “So, you’re still patrolling the tunnels and giving travelers a hard time? I thought I heard you’d advanced to pursuing and harassing the bigger fish?”
Kojak laughed. “Nah, I was just kidding. Ludwig and I happened to be in here at the same time. But you’re right, I climbed the corporate ladder all the way to cyberspace security. I have nothing to do anymore with policing the Internet tunnels.”
“I remember the first time Ludwig and I bumped into you or better you into us,” I said. “Ludwig was pretty sure you were a fraud, and I could have kicked myself for believing you were a real Internet police dog.”
“Ha, ha.” Kojak nodded and then shook his head. “No, I was very real, too much, though. Luckily, Lorelei cured me from being a stickler for the law …”
“That’s exactly what she called you,” Ludwig said, snickering. “But she also said you were very ambitious and competitive.”
“Well, I’m still always trying to do my best, but Lorelei has shown me a more sensible path to success. By the way, I’d dragged that sweet little dog from being an Internet kiosk assistant with me on my way up the ladder, and we’re now both partners in the cyberspace security department.”
“I’m glad it worked out so well for both of you,” I said.
“Thanks.” Kojak turned to Ludwig. “See, someone is happy for me. But now that you told me you have a kitty sister you adore, I’m sure you forgive me for stealing Lorelei away from you.”
“Nah, you didn’t steal her at all. I don’t think Lorelei even knew that I had an instant crush on her when Hobo and I met her at the kiosk.”
“So, Hobo,” Kojak asked, “what are you up to? Ludwig tells me you asked him over here to discuss something important? Something on your adventure list?”
“Something on my business list,” I answered.
Ludwig furrowed his brow. “I don’t know if I can help you with it. I don’t have that business mentality of yours. But what is it about?”
“I need you to go to Russia to check up on my caviar deals over there. It’s really more an investigation gig than a business matter.”
“Then maybe, you should hire Kojak for the job. He’s the perfect fit.”
“Oh no.” Kojak shook his head vigorously. “You’re not getting me involved in something like that. In fact, I’ll turn around and close my ears while you two make the necessary arrangements.”
“You don’t need to,” I said. “I trust you, and you’re not a tattletale.”
“It’s not about trust or keeping secrets. But, I’m sure your dealings have to involve the Internet, and it might put me into a precarious situation if any of them lead to a security breach and I’m aware of it.”
While Kojak went back to the computer at the other side of the room, I filled Ludwig in about my caviar operation in Russia and the latest developments. Most of it was old news for him since I always bragged about it whenever we met. “First, you have to meet with Olaf,” I said, “and then you need to get to the bottom of why the cats had gone berserk. Have them confess or clear things up.”
Now, that Ludwig felt at ease with cats, I was certain they’d cooperate with him if he was able to win them over. He was good at it with humans, it came naturally to him. It might even be an additional advantage regarding the men in black Olaf had mentioned.
I kept an eye on my incoming email for Ludwig’s reply while I explained to Wylie how to do any updates at the computer and what to watch out for. Much faster than I had expected, Ludwig answered me. He was ready for a meeting right away.
I cut off my instructions to Wylie, and he gave me a blank stare.
“What?” I asked.
“You can’t leave me hanging like this. I have a lot of questions.”
“You can handle it, and I won’t be gone long. Just make sure Thomas and Tiger do their job. Don’t let them dawdle.”
“You’re always on their backs. If they just take a short snack break and you notice it, you bark at them to go back to work. But Sabrina can snooze all day, and you don’t say a word.”
“I told you, she’s still wet behind the ears. I’m trying to break her in gently. But I don’t have time to argue about this now. Ludwig might already be waiting for me.”
I pushed Wylie out of the way so I could reach the computer’s USB port and got ready to upload myself. I logged on to the Internet, punched my ID code into the address bar and jumped back down to the computer. I held my tag close to the USB port, called out to Wylie, “See you,” and was on my way.
As usual, a wind with the force of a hurricane made me close my eyes and battered my ears. Feeling like a beach ball tossed around and around, I lost all sensation of direction but landed smoothly only a minute or two later in the Internet tunnel in front of my door.
I couldn’t remember ever having experienced a hard landing on the one-of-a kind floor all the Internet tunnels had. Ludwig always went bonkers over its surface, firm and soft at the same time while providing the perfect traction for our paws. I hoped he had resisted his urge to run back and forth through the tunnels and I didn’t have to chase him down this time.
It was the reason why I suggested meeting him in the relay station, the one close to Ludwig’s and my doors. Even though more and more relay stations had sprung up lately, there weren’t enough by far to serve the whole Internet. The improvements to them, however, were enormous. The Internet traveler now could also use them to move around inside the Internet instead of having to walk through tunnel after tunnel to find the wanted exit door. And compared to a roller coaster ride through hell traveling through the Internet to the outside, an inside trip felt like a heavenly boat ride.
I trotted to the fork of the tunnel which led to the left to Ludwig’s door and to the right to the relay station. Looking each way, I didn’t see a sign of Ludwig, but I could have sworn there was a noise somewhere. I held my breath and listened.
All I heard was the normal sound inside the Internet, the sound of silence. I looked in both directions in front of me again and also behind me, squinting my eyes to pick up anybody in the distance, but nobody was there.
With my ears pricked up, I made my way to the relay station. The big red X on its door became visible the same moment as I heard a noise, this time for sure. It sounded like some kind of croaking, coming from straight ahead.
I slowed down to a snail’s pace and approached the relay station door. The closer I came the louder the noise became, and I finally recognized it as the barking of two dogs. It came from inside the relay station. I couldn’t tell if it was friendly or hostile, but one of the voices was Ludwig’s.
Why was Ludwig fussing with another dog inside the relay station? He usually didn’t talk to other travelers in the Internet tunnels, seldom even acknowledging them at all, and everybody using the relay station kept quiet and without speaking to each other.
I wished I could hear what was going on behind the closed door, but it was too well insulated. I started to put my ear against it, but quickly stepped backward remembering a good friend’s advice to always stay at a safe distance from any door in the Internet if you don’t want to enter it.
I had to open it, and I had to do it fast. Ludwig was in there, and he might be in danger. I took a jump at the door handle.
Wylie bared his teeth. “I’m not doing this Internet traveling, Hobo, we agreed on that. I do the stuff here at home, and you visit the places that need our attention. That was the deal.”
“I can’t afford to take off right now, and you’re so skilled in handling cats, no one can do it better than you, and all the cats fall for your charm, immediately. You’re the dog for this.”
“Why don’t you send one of our kitty siblings? It would be easy for Thomas or Tiger to talk to those cats and figure out the problem. Even Sabrina could do it. She has a knack for dealing with troublemakers, having been one herself not that long ago.”
“Sabrina is still wet behind the ears. She’s just an intern and can’t deal on her own with the business affairs. But anyway, it won’t work. Cats have just started as Internet travelers after the permission finally went through. As far as I know, there are only two who have set their paws into the Internet tunnels.”
Wylie yawned and leaned back in his chair. “Isn’t it about time then to break ours in? I think they know all about it already.”
“You talk as if there’s nothing to it, but you refuse to travel in the Internet. Sooner or later you have to do it, there’s no way around it.”
“Then let Thomas or Tiger be the guinea pig. I go next, after I hear from them how it is. I trust them more in telling me the truth about it than you.”
“This isn’t some kind of new endeavor anymore.” I sneered at Wylie. “And now isn’t the time to introduce the cats to it. And before I do it, I first have to clear it with the Internet management. That’s the last thing on my mind right now. It would be better anyway if a dog deals with the situation. There might be something wrong on the dog couriers’ end that has spilled over to the cats’ job.”
“What about letting your friend—what’s his name?—help out. You always give me an ear-full about how fast and enthusiastically he embraced that Internet traveling after you taught him about it.”
“You mean Ludwig?”
“Yeah, that’s him, the one you met at doggy camp, and who later brought back a cat from one of your adventures you got caught up in travelling through the Internet.”
“Yeah, good old Gato who rid Ludwig of his fear of cats. He’s now her devoted doggy brother. By the way, she was the first cat allowed inside the Internet. But back to the issue. No, Ludwig is not a business dog and wouldn’t know how to tackle the problem. Besides, I wouldn’t want to bother him right now anyway. He’s busy taking care of his mom. She fell and broke her leg, and he’s learning to assist her in every way he can, fetching stuff she needs or wants, snuggling up with her and keeping an eye on her well-being.”
Wylie cocked his head. “Now, that sounds more like a job I’d like to do, going into health care, not having to deal with any of your weird ideas that are bound to cause trouble. But why don’t you let one of the dog representatives in Russia look into it?”
“Oh, come on, you don’t believe we can trust …"
The phone rang, and I jumped. As I answered the call, I put it on speaker. The message from Russia echoing through the room was not encouraging.
The dog at the other end of the phone was Olaf, my company’s general manager in Russia in charge of collecting the caviar orders and sending the cats out to pick up the delivery. He notified us about unfamiliar humans, clothed in black suits and wearing dark glasses, visiting the caviar processing area and inspecting the invoices.
“What about your place, any strange things happening there?” I asked Olaf.
“Early this morning, two courier dogs took off into the Internet, each with one order heading for your country. That was routine. But we still have one shipment sitting here. We’re waiting for one of the couriers to return from the Internet.”
“Hold on, you don’t have couriers as standbys? There should always be a dog available to leave right away as soon as a cat shows up with the merchandise. I thought I made that clear.”
“We worked it that way until this morning when we never received the latest shipment. Then, no other dog reported for duty. I thought it was just a coincidence, but I kept having this crawling feel in my fur. That’s why I called you.”
“OK, let’s not discuss it any further. All you need to know for now is that there’s another shipment coming. Process it as fast as you can, so there won’t be any inquiries from the buyer’s side. I’ll be in touch with you.”
I waited for Olaf to hang up and then disconnected my phone.
“Wylie, get up. I’ll show you what you’ve to do here.”
“Why? What are you up to?”
“I have to go to …”
“You’re not going to Russia, are you?”
“You heard Olaf, something is going on over there, and I don’t like it.”
”This manager of yours, he’s Russian, isn’t he?”
“Why in the world did you hire a Russian instead of sending one of our dogs to do the managing job over there?”
“A business friend of mine highly recommended this guy, and he looked smart and streetwise. I scrutinized his résumé, and I personally interviewed him when he came over here and checked out his past. He was clean. I even had Thomas vet him and consult with Tiger, and both of them agreed with my findings.”
“That was a good move, asking for both their help. Cats have kind of a seventh sense and can feel instantly if someone tries to double-cross them.”
“Yeah, and Thomas is also excellent in detecting the slightest flaws in whatever we deal with. I knew he was a gem the moment he moved in with us.”
“So, there was nothing fishy about that Russian guy?” Wylie grinned. “Except for having his paws in the caviar trade?”
“I liked what I saw and what we found out about him. But still, trusting 100 percent … trusting anybody from over there …"
“So why didn’t you hire a dog from here to work over there?”
“As you know, we needed someone who would be familiar with the Russian law. Nobody I could have found here would have known anything about it.”
“So, when are you leaving?”
“I’ll try to get Ludwig to meet me in the Internet as soon as possible. I’ve decided to send him to Russia after all.”
“Why do you have to meet him then? Why not just tell him over the phone?”
“It doesn’t work with Ludwig that way. He has trouble intercepting any phone calls at home, and it would take too long to explain our situation in Russia over the phone.”
Slowly, Wylie stretched and shook himself before stumbling over to me. As he put his nose on my shoulder, I emailed Ludwig asking if he could take off and see me for something important in the Internet tunnel. To make it easy for the both of us, I suggested we meet at the relay station located between both of our Internet doors.
Foreign business affairs
A fable by Bruny Hudson
The more you love a memory, the stronger and stranger it is.
My fur bristled and my ears sprang backward. I clutched the phone and squeezed it between my paws.
“What?” I barked to the dog at the other end of the line. “The cats ate the caviar?”
With my teeth bared, I glared at Wylie, my doggy brother and right paw, lounging on the easy chair across from the desk I was occupying while our dad was running an errand. Wylie shrugged his shoulders but didn’t stir a facial muscle.
“I want a written report, ASAP, and in detail,” I shouted into the phone. “This is outrageous. Whatever happened, somebody will pay for it. The caviar was supposed to be delivered early this morning. Go, get another order ready, but make sure a different cat delivers it to the courier.” I slammed the phone onto the console.
“Can you believe that,” I said to Wylie, my voice boiling with rage.
“I told you dealing with Russia and using Russian cats as go-betweens was asking for trouble,” Wylie said, leaning forward. “But you never believe me. You’re all gung ho about making as many kibbles as you can.”
“Well, the business is flourishing, and we’re faster delivering the food than any other company. It just so happens that Russia produces the best caviar.”
“You could have chosen any other fresh products, and we still would have beaten any competitors in speedy delivery. Maybe even something within the country, and we wouldn’t have to deal with foreign rules and regulations and strange behaviors.”
“It’s not only the speed that counts anymore, now that some companies are trying to get approval to use drones for fast delivery. It’s the uniqueness of the goods we deliver. Our customers crave the out-of-the-ordinary, the something they can impress their friends and business partners with.”
My fur started to flatten down and my ears pricked up. Wylie often had that effect on me, calming me down, if he didn’t first made me climb up the walls with his laid-back attitude.
“Every business deal has its ups and downs,” I said, “and so far everything has gone smoothly. It’s just so unbelievable, the cats devouring the very product that sustains the company they’re working for.”
“Yeah, it’s almost déjà vu, you know, the problems you told me about that you had with the cat employees before I moved in with you.”
Knitting my brow, I said, “That’s true, but it was a strike they were instigating for an imprudent comment my former attorney, Ms. Foley Monster, had made. What these Russian cats have done almost borders on cannibalism.”
“Maybe they had a good reason for going berserk all of a sudden.”
I leaned back in my chair and thought about Wylie’s remark. What if there was more to it than the cats foolishly destroying their own livelihood?
“You have to go to Russia, Wylie, and talk to them, the cats, and find out what happened.”
“You’re kidding me, aren’t you?”
“I’m dead serious. We can’t solve this over the phone. Someone has to go there and assess the situation.”